A Travellerspoint blog

Day Trip To China Ranch Date Farm

Bonnie Springs, Red Rock

sunny 40 °F

A friend of mine from Thailand is back in Las Vegas and we had lunch together last week. Bill has changed his diet because of some health issues and has gone vegan. While we were talking he mentioned dates. I asked him if he had ever been to China Ranch Date Farm out by Pahrump. He had not but would like to see it. The weather in Feb. 2019 Las Vegas has been unusual for us. The 'Pineapple Express' has been bashing Calif. for the last few weeks. Almost daily rain in SoCal, snow in the Sierras. Vegas also received more rain than normal and we even got snow on several days. We decided to go Feb. 22nd as it was clear skies and right after snow on our mountains. We met at the Silverton Hotel parking lot and we took my Odyssey. West on Blue Diamond Rd or NV 160. First stop was Bonnie Springs Ranch on State Route 159. Bonnie Springs has just been sold and approved for redevelopment. The plan is for around 20 luxury homes and an event center. The motel, Old West show, petting zoo, train rides, will be history so many locals are coming up to see it before it closes. Bill cannot walk very far due to illness but we got some nice photos of the ranch with snow on it.
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Over to Red Rock Conservation Area for some additional photos. More traffic, people and less snow so we did not stay at Red Rock Canyon very long. I drove back to NV 160 and headed for Pahrump.
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The turn off for China Ranch is Tecopa Springs (Old Spanish Trail) before you get to Pahrump. There is now a stop light as the road is under construction. An OK road until the turn off to Furnace Creek Rd. It turns to dirt and is quite steep the last mile before dropping into the ranch area. The China Ranch Creek keeps the palm tress alive in the Mojave Desert. First stop was the bathroom, then the gift shop. Bill bought plenty of dates and I got some date bread for my neighbor Jean. We walked among date palms but not many very showing dates this early. I think most of the dates ripen in the spring, summer. I took all the photos I wanted and then it was time to head home. China Ranch is an easy day trip even with stopping at Bonnie Springs. Bill voted not to eat at any restaurant on the way home as he is really trying to control his diet. Hopefully the vegan diet will help him feel better and back to optimum health. Our day trip was over by 4 pm.
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Posted by vegasmike6 18:23 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta 2017

White Sands NM, VLA, Petrified Forest NP.

sunny 80 °F

The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta has been on my bucket list for years and this was the year to see it. I called my friend Gregg in Santa Fe and made sure he was going to be there on Wed. the 11th. I got on booking.com and looked for rooms for the 10th. I found one at Rodeway Inn for $45. I thought because of the Balloon Fiesta everything would be booked or expensive. Not true. Tuesday Oct. 10th I got up early and hit the road. I stopped in Kingman AZ for fuel. AZ has lower taxes than Vegas is about .20 a gallon cheaper. I had apples, bananas, granola bars, pop tarts with me and did not plan on stopping for a meal until I got to Albuquerque. I got into town around 5 pm and followed my GPS to the Rodeway Inn. The first room was not acceptable due to the smoke detector chirping plus the phone did not work. I walked back to the office and they put me in 205. Much better. Less noise from the I-40 freeway and everything worked. I drove to a nearby Wendy's for dinner, back to the room, exercise, TV, read and lights out about 10 pm. I was up at 5:30 am and down to the BF room. They have a waffle maker, hot & cold cereal, yogurt, fruit. I had a waffle but made a mistake. I did not use the Pam and the waffle was difficult to extract in one piece. Back to the room, pack and off about 6 am. I followed directions to the balloon park, paid the $15 to park, $10 to enter the balloon grounds. I spent a few hours taking photos of the balloons being inflated and taking off. It was a perfect day: sunny, light wind and would warm up nicely later on. I got plenty of shots I was happy with and by 9:30 am I was ready to leave. Gassed up by the Sandia Casino and headed for Santa Fe. The gas station off exit 234, Tramway Blvd. is a good place to see the balloons once there are airborne. You have an unobstructed view of the entire balloon park and it is free!
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I followed my GPS to Gregg's house, called and told him I was outside. He was at the door and I came in to say hello to his wife Christine, daughter Hope, and granddaughter Lilly. We all chatted a bit and then we decided to drive up to the nearby ski resort for some fall foliage shots. Perfect day. Warm, blue skies and not many other leaf peepers out. We got some good photos, took a hike to loosen up the legs and back down the hill to the main plaza area.
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Parking is always a challenge in Santa Fe, but Gregg knew the best spot to look and we got lucky. I used my credit card as we did not have enough quarters for 2 hours. We walked the Cathedral, oldest church, shopping area then drove over to the Capitol. There is plenty of art displayed inside and worth walking around IMO. Of course, NM artists are displayed throughout. Gregg does not have any of his photos in the Capital but a few of his are displayed at the Governor's Mansion.
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We stopped so Gregg could pick up a pizza plus Walmart so I could buy a few things. Christine overdid the gardening and was not up to fixing dinner. She did make a salad for everyone and they had pizza while I had pasta. We chatted until about 10 pm and time for bed. I thought I was going to sleep in my van as all the bedrooms are being used. But, Gregg offered the couch and I accepted. I was up at 7 am, got dressed and waited until everyone else got up. They had eggs but I had my oatmeal in the van and fixed that. I said goodbye around 9 am and headed for Albuquerque. I had planned and leaving at 7 am and taking some photos from the Sandia Casino area. It is on a hill and overlooks the balloon park. But the balloons were all on the ground by the time I was at the casino. Gregg had told me that the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History was worth a visit so I decided to see that. $10 for seniors and I spent the next few hours walking the museum. There are replicas of 'the gadget', Little Boy' 'Fat Man, and other early weapons developed at the White Sands Missile Range. After enough walking and photos, I left and drove to a Wendy's for lunch.
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I took my time and then headed over to the Rodeway Inn. I had booked another night when I was there on the 10th. The room they had for me was not cleaned so I walked back to the office and told them. They gave me a suite with 2 beds, kitchen, a much nicer room. Cleaned up, exercise, then I drove to the balloon park again. I saw a lady waving a sign for $5 parking as I approached the balloon park and pulled in. Paid and started walking. A couple with their kids were walking with their chairs so I asked them if they were going for the 'night glow'. They were and had been there many times. I just followed them until we got to the entrance, paid my $10 and started taking photos. I found out the balloons were not going to launch, just turn on the burners to inflate their balloons. After about 2 hours of walking, I decided I had enough decent shots of the 'special shapes glowdeo' and walked to my van. I fought the heavy traffic getting out of the area and back to my room. Shower, TV, read, bed.
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I was up at 7 am and down to the BF room. I had learned my lesson and used the Pam this time on the waffle maker. Clean up, pack and on the road. My goal was Alamogordo where I had booked a room at the Classic Inn. Gregg had told me about the National Radio Astronomy Observatory or the Very Large Array (VLA) West of Socorro. It was out of the way but I had the time and decided to drive over. There is a small charge but you don't really have to pay. Park, walk through the entrance and outside. There is a self-guided tour that explains the VLA as you walk to the nearest radio telescope. After getting all the photos I wanted, I headed back to Socorro.
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Gassed up and headed for Alamogordo via Carrizozo. I stopped at the Valley of Fires to pick up some lava rocks. My neighbor Jean likes different rocks for her backyard and knew she would appreciate some black lava.
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My GPS took me right to the Classic Inn where I had booked a room. It was very basic but acceptable. As long as it has a bed, bathroom, TV I am OK with that. I moved my stuff in, did my exercises and headed for the nearest Wendy's for dinner. Back to my room, some TV, shower, lights out. I was up at 7 am and decided to have my oatmeal in my room. The room has a microwave and I fixed my BF. Cleaned up and headed for White Sands National Monument (WSNM). I was there before the VC opened but did not have to wait very long. Into the VC I saw that the movie would start in 5 minutes. It is a nice introduction to WSNM and worth your time IMO. My Senior Pass got me into Monument for free and I started driving the loop. First stop was Dunes and decided to change into shorts. It was going to be in the high 80s (30c) and was not going to need long pants. I took the Dunes hike and got some nice photos. Drove to the end of the loop and saw some kids sliding down the dunes. WSNM is the largest gypsum dunes in the world and a very special place. After enough photos, I headed for the exit. I decided to stop at the boardwalk and walk that before leaving. I heard two guys chatting in Japanese and said I said 'konnichiwa' to them. That got them to stop and we had a very nice conversation. Both were studying at UCLA and spoke very good English. I told them about my trip to Japan last April as we walked the boardwalk. It was a good encounter for me and I think them as well. Of course we discussed the tragic shooting in Las Vegas, Trump and living in the US vs Japan. We said goodbye and I headed back to the VC. I bought a WSNM water bottle, hit the bathroom and headed for my room.
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I had a PB&J sandwich, some fruit and headed to the NM Museum of Space History. It is the second most popular sightseeing in Alamogordo after WSNM. $6 for seniors and I walked the museum both inside and out. I did not take many photos as it was not that interesting. I think families with small children will enjoy it but not sure I would recommend it to anyone else. I filled my tank and then stopped at a neighborhood Walmart for some fruit on the way to my room. I did my exercises, shower then watched some college football. At 7 pm I drove back to Wendy's for dinner, room. TV, read, bed.
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I was up at 6 am, packed and started the long drive back. I decided to go back via Socorro to Springerville to Holbrooke. I had my apples, banana pop tarts on my back. I stopped at the Petrified Forest NP to walk a bit and take a few photos. I had been there with Chris a few years ago but thought it was worth stopping again. Back on 180 to Holbrook then onto I-40.
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I have seen the signs for the Geronimo Gift Shop on the way to NM and decided to stop. They claim they have the largest petrified log in the world. I got a photo of it just in case it is true! Took a look at their gift shop and was on my way in 10 minutes. I stopped in Williams for fuel and made it to Vegas about 7 pm. A long day behind the wheel but manageable. My trip to NM was over.
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Posted by vegasmike6 16:35 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Visiting the Route 91 Harvest Festival Memorials

sunny 80 °F

I woke up Monday morning, Oct. 2nd to find out there had been a mass shooting on the Strip while I slept. The news went around the world that day and I started getting some e-mails from friends in foreign countries to see if I was OK. I decided to go out the memorial that grieving family, friends and sympathetic strangers had started on the Strip. I went Thursday morning and quickly found out it was going to be difficult to find free parking anywhere near the memorial set up on the median on LVBS and Reno Ave. I finally decided to park at the Harley Davidson Store across from the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign. It was a beautiful day, clear skies, temps in the mid 80s, (27c) no wind. It was about a mile hike to the Reno Ave. memorial. I took some of Mandalay Bay Hotel where the shooter broke out two windows and fired on the crowd enjoying the Route 91 Harvest Festival Sunday night.
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Once at the memorial, I saw several TV crews interviewing people about the mass shooting and their reactions, etc. I was approached by a Billy Graham volunteer and we started talking about what had happened Oct. 1. Ray had flown out from North Carolina on Monday afternoon to help and pray with anyone that needed consolation. Billy Graham Ministries has a crisis response team that goes to anywhere in the world that has experienced a crisis. Natural or man made. He told me that teams were in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico right now helping those affected by the recent hurricanes. Ray has been in Spain and the UK this year for the mass casualty events there.
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After spending about 30 minutes at the memorial at Reno Ave, I walked back to the Welcome to Las Vegas sign. There is another memorial there and hundreds of people were gathered there pray, mourn and express their sympathy for the 58 shooting victims and their families. There were a group of boxers there signing the Vegas Strong banner and a large boxing glove. Ex heavyweight champ Leon Spinks was there signing autographs and posing for photos.
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After paying my respects to the memorial and the fallen, I walked back to the Harley Store and drove home.

I saw on the news that night that a man in Chicago had created an individual memorial for each of the 58 victims and brought it to Vegas, I went back out to the Welcome sign Sat. morning and took some additional photos of the individual markers. The area was just packed and again parking was difficult. I pulled into the Metro Police substation close to the Welcome sign. I did not see any signs stating the public could not park there so I grabbed my camera and walked to the memorial. It was a emotional experience for many. I saw some family members sitting by the memorial for their loved just sobbing. This senseless tragedy has shattered hundreds of peoples lives. After about 30 minutes I had enough and walked back to my van.
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Las Vegas has really come together to donate blood, money, their time and energy to help the families of the fallen and the over 500 wounded. All those visiting Vegas in the next 30 days will still be able to see the various memorials set up to honor the victims of this senseless tragedy. #Vegas Strong.

Posted by vegasmike6 22:55 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Off To See The Eclipse!

sunny 85 °F

Anyone living in the US heard plenty of news on the eclipse this summer. As the date got closer, more and more information hit the newspapers, magazines, TV, the Internet, etc. Las Vegas was only going to have 70% on the Sun blocked so I decided to drive to Wyoming where they would have totality. My first choice was Jackson or Grand Teton National Park. But I kept hearing the week before the eclipse that both locations were packed with eclipse watchers. When I read that ranchers were charging and getting $1000 to let RVs park on their pasture, I looked for another location. Several articles were suggesting that the Wind River Reservation would have far fewer visitors and plenty of free parking. I called them and confirmed that the Wind River Casino would have free parking and Native American ceremonies leading up to the eclipse. My friend Chris was back from Thailand and I checked to see if he wanted to go as well. He did but was suffering from prostate issues and had a Dr. appointment on the 22th. I had booked a room in Evanston WY a few weeks before the eclipse just in case Chris decided to go. I can sleep in the back of my van but not both of us. When he declined I decided to keep the room.

Sunday, Aug. 20 was my departure date. I figured most of the eclipse watchers would already be in place and the traffic would not be too heavy. I got up early and headed North on I-15. I stopped in Beaver UT for gas and then saw the sign for Fillmore. I knew Fillmore had been the historic capital of Utah but had never stopped. Brigham Young picked the location as it was in the center of the Utah territory. Fillmore was named for the President at the time, Millard Fillmore. It was the territorial capital between 1851-56 when the capital was moved to Salt Lake City. I pulled into Fillmore and followed the signs to the old capital. Being Sunday nothing was open so I just walked around a popped a few photos. Click on any of my photos for a larger image and additional information about the photo and what I experienced.
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I decided to take 189 at Provo instead of driving into SLC. 189 is very scenic and plenty of people were rafting the Provo River. I got on I-80 and headed for Evanston. I used my GPS to find the Knight's Inn where I had made my reservation. Found my room and took in my stuff. I drove over to the closest Wendy's and had a salad, frosty. Stopped for gas, back to my room. I did my stretching, sit-ups, shower, TV, read, bed. I set my alarm for 6 am and headed for the lobby area for BF. I saw the room when I checked in and was happy to see that they had hot, cold cereal, bagels, and a waffle maker. Several guys were already using the waffle maker so I had a bowl of oatmeal until they were finished. I got some OJ and then made my waffle. By 6:30 am I had packed my van and was on the road. To Rock Springs, then took 191 North to Lander. Traffic was light all the way. I turned onto 138 to made it to Riverton about 10 am. The Wind River Casino was off to my left and had hundreds of people on their grass setting up their lawn chairs and tripods. I joined the crowd and set up close to family that had a solar filter on the lens. I asked Steven if he could help me get my Canon G 12 set-up for the eclipse. He was very helpful and fiddled with my Canon until he thought it was ready to go. I then took my Nikon and started taking some photos of the Arapahoe dancers entertaining the crowd before the eclipse started. The guy on the microphone announced that they had free eclipse glasses for anyone that needed them. I got a pair and Steven help me tape them in front of my lens. The eclipse had started by then and I started firing away. The beauty of digital is that you can check your results in seconds. He got my camera on max zoom and then reset the shutter speed for better results. I fired away until the clouds rolled in. We had perfectly clear skies until about 20 minutes before totality. My shots before totality were OK for my camera and lack of a real solar filter. The ones of totality were not worth anything because of the clouds. We were all disappointed but what can you do? Weather is always a crap shoot and you take the good with the bad. Most of the time we had good visibility but not at totality. The crowd cheered when it went dark at totality. For 2 minutes we had dark skies at noon. I quit fiddling with my camera and just enjoyed seeing a total solar eclipse. The crowd was buzzing with excitement as we were all witnessing something special. We all knew this may be the only total solar eclipse we will ever see. I talked to people from Texas, Colorado, Michigan and all of us were glad we made the effort to get to Wyoming. As soon as the sun came back, many people started packing up and leaving. I stayed and took some photos after totality and then decided to go inside the Wind River Casino to use the bathroom and take a look around. Since I live in Vegas I was not temped to gamble any of my hard earned money while in the casino! After 15 minutes I headed back to my van to decide what to see next. I really should of joined the folks that left immediately after totality because I would get caught in horrible traffic shortly.
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I saw on my atlas that just outside Lander was Sacajawea's grave. I had watched Ken Burn's 'Lewis & Clark's Expedition on PBS and knew Sacajawea was a vital member of the Corps of Discovery. Since her grave was not far off my route, I decided to take the time and visit her grave. The traffic was pretty heavy heading to Lander but never came to a complete stop. I turned right onto 287 and headed for Fort Washakie. There is a marker telling you when to turn and I followed several RVs that were also turning. We all stopped at a graveyard within a mile after turning, guessing her grave would be close to Chief Washakie's memorial. Wrong. I asked them if their smart phone would guide them to her grave but never got a good answer. I decided to go back a half mile and ask at the Wind River Center. They had a map printed up and gave me directions. The Native Americans have decided not to have clear direction signs on the highway. Not sure why but it does make it a bit more difficult to find. I drove to the Sacajawea Cemetery and grabbed my camera. There were dozens of people wandering around the grave site and I joined them. After a few photos, I headed back to Lander.
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Plan A was to drive towards Dinosaur National Monument and find a room in Vernal. What I did not count on was a massive traffic jam in Lander. I stopped for some gas and tried to get out of Lander. Unfortunately, there is only one road that will get you out of town and thousands of eclipse watchers were all heading South on 287. I spent 3 hours going 2 miles trying to catch 28 to Rock Springs. By the time I got to Rock Springs it was 8 pm. I stopped at Wendy's for dinner and got on my laptop to see what motels were available. Most were either full or were still overcharging because of the eclipse. My GPS told me that a Wal-Mart was not far and I headed there. Inside to clean-up, toilet and then parked alongside over a dozen RVs, vans, big rigs. Plenty of others were going to sleep in Wal-Mart's parking lot as well. I made up my bed and by 10 pm I called it a night. I was up with the sun and started driving for Vernal. I stopped at the Flaming Gorge Dam and took a few photos. A FLDS couple was there as well. Not an uncommon sight in UT. As I was leaving the dam, a herd of deer crossed the road. If I had been 30 seconds faster or slower leaving the dam I would not have seen them. I took a quick photo through the windshield and continued on to Vernal UT.
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I got to Vernal around 9 am and stopped at a public park. Bathroom break and then a few photos of some cement Dinosaurs that they have erected in the park. Vernal's claim to fame is being the gateway to Dinosaur National Monument. You go with what you have and Vernal plays up its dinosaur relationship.
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There is a nice Visitor's Center when you turn off highway 40 to enter the NM. A quick stop to chat, fill up my water bottles and get a map of the Monument. I got out my Senior Pass and entered Dinosaur NM. I got my day bag, hat, camera and walked to the VC. I got my stamp for my NP passport and waited for the shuttle van. They run every 10 minutes or so from the VC to the building housing all the bones. I walked into the building and started taking photos. I chatted with the Ranger and got some good information on the history of building, the bones displayed. After 30 minutes I took the shuttle back to the VC and decided to drive over to see some of the petroglyphs and go down to the Green River. After seeing both I decided to start the long drive back to Vegas.
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I could either drive to Nephi and catch I-15 South or head for Richfield and take I-70 West until it joins I-15. The lady at VC googled both routes and suggested going home via Richfield. It is a more scenic drive and I have never been thru that part of Utah. Back to Vernal, 40 to Duchesne, then head Sout on 191 to Price. It rained off and on as I got closer to Price. I had one of my apples and a few granola bars on the way to Price. I stopped for $20 worth of gas and just to walk around a bit to loosen up. On to I-70 West to Richfield. I stopped at Wendy's for lunch, then on to Cedar City. I loaded up on fuel and 3 hours later I was back in Vegas. My eclipse adventire was over.

Posted by vegasmike6 17:51 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Chasing Sakura in Japan Part 1

Tokyo, Matsumoto & snow monkeys

overcast 50 °F

I put Japan on my bucket list after talking to Harumi while in Fairbanks AK chasing the Northern Lights. She convinced me that visiting Japan during cherry blossom season would be the best time. I checked on the Internet and found out that the first two weeks of April was historically the best time for peak cherry blossoms or 'sukura'. I had seen many photos of the 'snow monkeys' of Japan and also a TV clip. I decided to include that as well. I enter the tentative departure date of March 21, coming home on April 12. This would give me 3 weeks to see what I could of Japan. After much research, I got a R/T trip LAS-HND on United Airlines stopping in SFO. The departure time was OK, only 2 hours in SFO between flights, good arrival time in Haneda. I paid $519 total and started planning what cites to visit and where I would stay. I would use Airbnb again as they are usually cheaper than even some hostel. You are staying with a family that can help with what to see and how to get around. I booked my Tokyo room and then found out that Miho was book for April 10, 11th when I would return to Tokyo for my flight home. I then decided to book all my rooms before leaving Las Vegas. I worked on a schedule and booked rooms in 8 different cities, hoping to catch the cherry blossoms at peak somewhere while I was in Japan. I ended up averaging $30 a night for my 21 day stay. I put it all on my credit card and would have the airfare and rooms paid for before I left Vegas. All visitors to Japan make a decision on whether to buy the Japan Rail Pass or not. You have to buy the JRP before arriving in Japan. I was going to spend the first 3 days in Tokyo, the next 3 in Matsumoto so I would not need the 21 day pass. The 14 day pas was $411. I decided not to buy the JRP and to use the bus system instead. I would use Jetstar Japan to fly down to Fukuoka from Tokyo. That flight was much cheaper using the trains.

The weeks went by and it was now time to fly. My nephew took me out to McCarran at 6 am. United Airlines uses T-3 which is easier to access than the main terminal, T-1. Used the kiosk and got my boarding passes for both legs. Good flight into SFO and only 2 hour wait between flights. It was a 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo, very comfortable plane even in coach. Decent food and into Haneda (HND) a bit ahead of schedule. I had booked a phone for my time in Japan. US phones won't work there, different systems. If you have a smartphone, you can buy or rent a SIM card. I have an older flip phone and decided to rent a phone from 'Softbank'. I found their booth at HND and she showed me how to place a call in Japan. Changed $200 USD into yen and followed Miho's instructions on walking to her apt. The Keikyu subway goes right into HND and makes it easy and cheap to get to her place. I bought a PASMO Card and put 2,000 yen on it. Her stop is Keikyu Kamata only 300 yen away. I got out at Kamata and followed her instructions. Miho put up photos on walking instructions from the East exit of Kamata. I was there in about 15 minutes. I found the right apt. and she answered on the first ring. Miho has a dog and he does not seem to like male guests. After being introduced to him and giving him a treat, he settled down enough to not be bitten. She showed me my room, bathroom, and the small kitchen. I had bought an egg salad sandwich at a Family Mart next to her apt. building. That would do for dinner. Since I was alone, I decided I was not going to eat in restaurants. I would have scrambled eggs, toast and tea when I have the use of a kitchen. When I say I had lunch while sightseeing, it will be a sandwich and some fruit. I am going to try and exercise daily to not lose my level of fitness. Walking everyday will be easy since I am here for sightseeing. I also plan to do my stretching, sit-ups each night as well. Time on my laptop, read, take my sleep pill and then bed. From now on, when I say 'nightly routine' you will know what I mean. I took a shower, nightly routine and and one very long day was over.

A decent night's sleep, up 6 am and had some tea in my room. Miho has everything you need for coffee or tea w/o going into the kitchen. When I heard some noise, I went into the kitchen met Maria, Miho's mom. They share the back bedroom, front one for Airbnb guests. Had more tea while we chatted, then I got on my laptop then got ready for my first day of sightseeing. I waited until after 9 am before walking to the train station. I wanted to avoid the rush hour crowd. Found a 7-11 for a sand. banana. That would be my main go to meal when out sightseeing. I had to change trains to get to Ueno Park but it went OK. The trains in Tokyo have signs in English as well as Japanese and Chinese. On most of the trains I was on, they announce to next station plus it is on a reader sign above the doors. I found it difficult to understand the announcement but could read the sign. Off at Ueno, I walked to the huge park. There is a booth at the entrance and they have maps and will help plan your visit. Ueno Park is similar to New York's Central Park: huge and many different parts to explore. You cannot see it all in one day. I decided to visit the National Museum and headed for it, 600 yen entrance fee. I took plenty of photos and started to wear out walking the exhibits. I walked to a 7-11 close to Ueno Park, lunch. After eating, I found a quiet area with a lake and temples behind the national Museum. A few photos there and I found the one cherry tree that had blossomed this early. Micro-climate is what I was told. Took a couple of photos of it then I decided to walk the Ueno Zoo. It is only 300 yen for Seniors and they have a good selection of animals, including Panda bears. But, it was just packed with families and made it difficult to get around or take any photos worthwhile. After a few hours, I was tired and decided to head back to Miho's place. Train to Shinagawa, change trains to Keikyu line, off at Kamata. She had told me where a decent sized market out the West exit at Kamata. I found it and bought eggs, bread, apples, carrots. Everything is more than the US but not much choice. I am not going to be eating in restaurants, so I will fix BF & dinner at the places I am staying when possible. I followed the route back to Miho's and let myself in. Luckily she was home because her dog barks almost constantly unless she holds it. We chat about my day, shower, change into my flannel pajama bottoms plus t-shirt. I only brought 2 quick dry t-shirts so I wash them in the shower each night and switch to the other one. Fixed my eggs, toast, and tea. Nightly routine. Miho has a put a Western mattress on the floor, so I did get a decent night's sleep. However, it is difficult for me to get down to floor level. No furniture, so you read, computer while sitting on the floor. I was to find out that this is the norm in most Airbnb rooms in Japan.
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I was up at 6 am, had some tea. She has put a kettle, water, tea, coffee in your room. I waited until I heard someone was up and went into the kitchen. Chatted with Miho and her mom and waited for them to leave for work at 8:30. Then I fixed my breakfast and got ready for my day. I decided to visit another park and picked Hama Palace Park. The Tokyo-Yokohama metro area has 27 million people and is just too hectic for me. I did not need any more museums or places with huge crowds. Hama Rikyu Gardens is another oasis in the urban jungle of Tokyo. Plenty of photos and very peaceful walking in the park. The cherry trees had not bloomed yet, but it was a pleasant day and I enjoyed just walking the park. There is the Nakajima Teahouse for those that want to sit and enjoying their tea in a peaceful setting. I cross the Otsutaibashi Bridge and complete the circuit of the Park. Hama Rikyu is special for several reasons and being surrounded by high-rise buildings is one of them. You get a great contrast between the beautiful grounds of the park and modern Tokyo. Hama Rikyu is also at the mouth of the Sumida-gawa River. Their is a floodgate that allows the level of the lakes to change with the tides. There are still duck blinds visible from past times when the park was used for duck hunting.
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I saw they have a boat tour of the harbor and walked over to the landing. The one I wanted had already left, but if I took a short boat ride to Diver City Mall, I could get another boat to the Kasai Rinkai Water Park, 1,600 yen for both legs. I had an hour to kill at the mall so walked around a bit. I did find one tree that had blossomed by the mall: micro-climate again. I guess with direct sun plus the heat from the buildings, this tree popped early. Another egg salad sand plus a carrot and I was off on the second leg of the boat trip. It is quite a long way to the Water Park, but I did not take many photos as the weather turned overcast plus light rain. The 117 meter Ferris Wheel makes Kansai Rinkai easy to spot from a long distance. March is too cool for the Ferris Wheel to be open. It is quite a hike from the water taxi to the trains and I was ready to sit for awhile. I got some help from the train official on what train to take to Shinagawa. Then I changed trains for the Keikyu line. Off at Kamata, I had to charge up my PASMO card to get thru the turnstiles. You can run thru $20 USD (2,000yen) very quickly taking trains in Tokyo. I walked back to Miho's, nobody home yet. Shower, tea in my room and waited for them to get home. The dog barks if you go in the kitchen w/o Miho. Once they were home, I fixed my dinner, chatted with them and went to my room. More tea, computer to e-mail Brian in Matsumoto, nightly routine. Day 3 was over.

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I was up at 6 am, did some stretching, my sit-ups and had some tea. I was waiting for Miho and her mother were up before entering the kitchen. They had to go to work again so I waited until 8:30 to say goodbye. I was to lock the door and put the key in the slot for the mail. After my BF, I cleaned up and then final packing. When I sure I had everything, I locked the door and walked to the train station. I need to get to Shinjuku Station for Matsumoto. Shinjuku is not only the major train station in Tokyo, it is also the bus station for many of the long distance buses. I was directed to the bus station by one of the workers and stopped at the Info booth. Most large train & bus stations have English speaking personnel to help visitors. I got in line and was directed to the line for Matsumoto, 1,100 yen. The bus is often half of the price of the train to many cities. It is usually a few hours slower, but I could not check in until 4 pm anyway so getting there a few hours earlier made no sense. The Japanese trains and buses leave on time. When they tell you 10:10 am, they mean it. The bus was comfortable, quiet, a good ride on good highways. I was impressed with the infrastructure in Japan. Clean, modern, efficient trains, buses, and highways. The bus stopped a few times for bathroom, food and we got into Matsumoto right at 2 pm. Brian had e-mailed me some photos on how to get to the Matsumoto Backpacker Hostel. I followed the photos Brian had sent me and walked to the hostel. A girl from Singapore let me leave my bag in the hostel and showed me the kitchen, common area, bathroom, shower. I left my bag in the entrance area and walked back to the train station. She told me where there was a grocery store close to the train station. I bought my eggs, bread, bananas, apples, enough for 3 days in Matsumoto. Brian showed up at 4 pm with his 2 yr old son. He is from Ireland and married a Japanese lady. He now speaks fluent Japanese and is a fount of knowledge on the Matsumoto area. There were now 5 of us in the common area next to the kitchen. Brian's place is traditional Japanese. There is a low table in the common are and plenty of cushions to sit on. There are no chairs. I found it very difficult to sit on the floor at this stage of my life. I did it, but it was not a pretty sight. No furniture in the dorm rooms either. Just Futon mattresses on the floor. There is no sense going to your room until you are ready to sleep IMO. I fixed my eggs, toast, tea and chatted until 9 pm. I was going to take the bus to Nagano, but found out they only run trains on the weekend. Brian gave me a handout on the steps from Matsumoto to Snow Monkey Park. We discussed my plans for tomorrow until it was 10 pm, time for bed.

I was up at first light. I see the room get light and I am up. I got my day bag ready and I was out the door by 7 am. When I stepped out the door I got a shock. It was cold and snowing! The weather had been OK the day before. Not today. I walked in the snow to the train station, bought a sand. and then an R/T trip ticket to Nagano 1,400 yen. I got the 7:30 train and settled back to watch the scenery, read my book. Nagano is only about an hour plus away. I got in at 5 minutes to 9 and found the Visitor's Center (VC). I was the first in line and she handed me probably the most requested handout they have. It pushes a combo train, bus, subway, entrance fee to the Snow Monkey Park (SMP) for 3,200 yen. Not sure it saves you any money, but is the easiest most convenient way to go. The bus was leaving in 10 minutes so I hit the bathroom and walked outside for the bus. This is where you pay for the day pass. Got on the bus and relaxed. It was going to be about an hour ride to the jump off spot. The guys across the aisle were from Germany and we got to chatting. As soon as they find out I am from Las Vegas I get the same question: What is it like living in Las Vegas? Now I find I will be asked another question almost every time: How in the world did Donald Trump win the election? I confessed that we were still wondering about that as well. Everyone from Europe I met was stunned we elected Trump. Me too. I believed all the Vegas bookmakers who had Hillary Clinton winning easily. We chatted about Las Vegas, the election, touring Japan. The driver announced we were at the start of the trail for SMP and we all piled off. There is a small building there and many of us went inside. There is an info desk, bathrooms plus is was warm. The route guide tells you that it is about a 45-minute walk to SMP. Perhaps when I was younger but now it took almost an hour. It is uphill most of the way and it started snowing quite hard as I trudged uphill. It was cold but walking helped. I stopped when I saw 2 girls taking photos of a money. Really they are 'macaques', the Northern most band. Macaques prefer a warmer climate but this group lives here because of the hot springs and probably the tourists. The Japanese provide food for them close to the hot springs and they have adapted. I gave my camera to one of the girls so I could have a shot with the monkey. He got mad as I did not give him anything to eat. Onward and upward, I kept trudging until I saw the entrance to the Park. The day pass gets you right in, no standing in line. It is 800 yen to enter the Park. I was surprised how many people were walking down the hill as I was going up. We were on one of the first buses this morning, hard to believe so many could have beaten me to the Park, got their photos of the monkeys and left. I think the ones I saw were staying in the lodges you pass while hiking uphill. There are ski resorts close by and these must have been guests of these lodges. I finally get to the hot springs that many of the monkeys soak in daily. It was cold today, don't blame them for relaxing in the hot water. I found the German guys and they took a few photos of me with the monkeys. it is a difficult shot as you are not allowed to feed or interact with them. You get as close as you think is safe and hope it turns out. I spent about an hour getting shots from many different angles and decided I had enough. There are bathrooms at the Park entrance, hit that and warmed up before heading downhill.
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You really need to pay attention walking back, most falls are going downhill, not up. I took it slow and steady and saw a bus parked much closer than where I was dropped off. A couple from Holland told me that if I had the day pass, I could take this bus to town. I pulled out my pass and we all got on. It was a local bus, not a tourist bus like we arrived in. The last stop was at a train station. It certainly wasn't Nagano, too small. I pulled my pass out and asked one of the guards if this train went to Nagano. Yes, so I got on. It really was a local train, stops every 5 minutes. It took an hour to reach Nagano. I had one of my bananas, some bread and headed for the VC. The same lady I talked to this morning said I had enough time to visit the Zenkoji Temple before my train to Matsumoto. Downstairs to the subway, several stops then walk 15 minutes to the Temple. I was tired but knew this was my only chance to see the Zenkoji Temple. Zenkoji Temples claim to fame is that it houses the first Buddha statue brought to Japan in 522AD from Korea. Over one million pilgrims come to Zenkoji each year. Since I am not a Buddhist, the shrines don't mean much to me. I got what photos I thought were interesting, then retraced my steps to the subway. There was a 7-11 by the subway station so I had lunch, then headed downstairs for the subway. I heard a train leaving while I was on the stairs. I missed it by about 1-2 minutes. I looked at a schedule on the pole and it was going to be 20 minutes before the next train. I would not be making the 3:10 pm train to Matsumoto. But, they have a 4:15 pm train so I killed some time in the coffee shop next to the VC. Bathroom, brushed my teeth and got to the correct platform. Back to Matsumoto at 5:30 pm and walked to the hostel. 100 yen for a towel, shower, then hit the common area to chat and fix my dinner. I chatted with several of the others staying here and found out what they had been doing today. Several were going to Nagano the next day for the snow monkeys. I gave them my camera to scroll thru my photos. My room was full tonight. 3 guys from Europe were going to teach English for a year in Japan and were staying at the hostel until their accommodation is ready. We talked until about 10 pm when we all agreed it was time for lights out. A full but satisfying day.
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Up at first light, I went to the entrance area. I could stretch there w/o bothering anyone. Around 7 am the first girl got up and started using the kitchen. I kept her company until she was finished and then fixed my eggs, toast, tea. I just read my book and waited for more people to get up. Once the guys in my room were awake I went in and got my bathroom bag, teeth, shave and changed out of my PJs. PlanA was to walk down to the Matsumoto Castle and spend most of the day sightseeing. It about a 15 minute walk from the hostel to the castle. I stopped at some outdoor event and took a few photos of the crowd. It is Sunday and the Japanese are out enjoying the day. It was partly sunny, about as good as I could expect in late March. I approached the castle and see a sign on the left side that offers free English speaking guide to the castle. I went inside and chatted with the lady. I was the only one so far but told her I would wait for to see if others would show up. None did in about 5 minutes so she locked the door and we started for the castle. A couple of Westerners were approaching us and I asked them if they would like an English speaking tour guide. Of course they accepted so Sue & David from OZ joined us. There is a spot before the moat that the guide takes us to for a good angle of the castle. An advantage of having them along is that I now have someone to take a photo with me in it. Always a problem when traveling alone. We cross the moat and pay the 800 yen to enter the castle. There are several Ninja Warriors and other costumed performers outside the castle adding a bit of color. Our guide tells us about the castle, its history, the many rulers, etc. I might mean something to those that know Japanese history but does not mean much to us. We go inside, leaving our shoes, wearing protective booties. All wood floors and thousands of people tour the castle daily. We find out it there are some very steep stairs to go to the higher levels. Sue had injured here knee a few days ago and was not sure she could navigate the stairs. No elevators in Matsumoto Castle! She made it up and we toured the 3rd floor. There is a line up to the 4th floor, it only takes 1 person with mobility issues and the line gets much longer. I get up them but not easily. Sue decided to go back to ground level so David and I follow the guide up the stairs. Very narrow, very steep. I should have passed myself. The view is not enough different to risk going up then down those stairs. One misstep and you are going to hurt yourself. Photos of the surrounding area and we troop back to ground level. Once outside, our guide wishes us luck and goes back for another tour. I chat with Sue & David for a bit and then they head off as well. I walked the castle grounds looking for a better view of the castle.
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Outside there is a small City of Matsumoto Museum. Free with your castle ticket. I go inside and walk the exhibits. It is worth maybe 15 minutes. It might be important to someone from Matsumoto, but not anyone else. There are gardens on the other side of the castle and I head there after resting up. My feet & legs get tired after several hours of walking. The garden is free as well if you toured the castle. Plenty of photos and then I had enough sightseeing. I have a long walk back to the train station and head off. There were a few interesting photos of the downtown area as I made my way to the train station. I had lost my sunglasses in Tokyo and decided to replace them. Brian had told me a few stores to check and he gave good advice. The first one I checked had what I wanted for under $10. I bought an egg salad sand. and chocolate milk at a 7-11 and rested up before the hike back to the hostel. When I was ready, I made it to the train station and followed the route to the hostel. I took a shower and then hit the common room for some tea. I chatted with Brian about my plans after Matsumoto. I did not book a room for tomorrow as I would fly Jetstar Japan to Fukuoka on the 29th. This is from Narita and I thought I would just go to Tokyo, late bus to the airport late and spend the night there before my 8 am flight. He got out his phone and looked at hotel prices in Narita for tomorrow. He found a hotel for $45 with taxes and I decided to book it using my credit card. Had my dinner, more tea and chatted with the others until time for bed. Decent weather today and good sightseeing at Matsumoto Castle. Definitely one of the best days sightseeing so far.
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Up with the sun, sit-ups in bed, stretch in the entrance area. Had some tea and waited for the other guests to get up. Around 8 am I had my BF, then Brian came by. He does not live at the hostel, has a place with his wife & son close by. Clean up, pack, say goodbye and I head for the train station one last time. The bus station is right next door and I buy a ticket to Shinjuku, 3,500 yen. Good bus and a good driver. I think they all are. Japan probably would not tolerate anyone that was not a safer driver and kept to the schedule. One stop for bathroom, food, then into Tokyo around 3 pm. I walked to the train station at Shinjuku and used my PASMO card to Tokyo station. Reading online, I found out that it was cheaper to Narita from Tokyo station than from Shinjuku. Once at Tokyo station I made my way to street level and found the bus to Narita, 1,000 yen. You get in line and they load the bus. As soon as it is full another one pulls up. A guy from Peru now living in Tokyo is next to me and we chat a bit during the ride to Narita. Within 5 minutes a guy across the aisle told us 'no talking on the bus'. There are signs about mobile phones and talking, so we shut up. Once at Narita airport, I found a quiet area and had a banana, some bread. All the hotels run shuttle buses to their hotels so I found the proper area and waited for the Marroad International Hotel shuttle. About 20 minutes later the shuttle arrived and we were taken to the hotel. I showed my ID at the front desk and was given a key card. Great room, by far the nicest one I would stay in while in Japan. I took a shower, washed my clothes in the tub, set everything out to dry. I went downstairs and found a small 7-11 type store. They had an egg salad sand and chocolate milk. Bought that and had my 'dinner' in my room. The TV had BBC so I watched the first TV since I hit Japan. I then hit the floor and did my sit-ups, stretching. Sent a few e-mail, read and it was time for bed. I had a 5:15 wake-up call so turned in at 9 pm.
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Posted by vegasmike6 14:30 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

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