A Travellerspoint blog

Chasing Sakura in Japan Part 2

Fukuoka & Hiroshima

rain 50 °F

At 5:15 am the phone rang and it was time to start the day. Packed my bag, downstairs for the shuttle. Once at the airport I re-packed. Jetstar Japan only allows a 5 kilo carry-on for free and that would be difficult. I put my laptop under my arm, camera plus book in my hand covered by my jacket. A lot of trouble for nothing. The lady at Jetstar looked my bag and gave me a boarding pass. Did not bother to weight my bag. I found a quiet spot and re-packed. Everything I could not do w/o went into my day bag, the rest into my main bag. We left on time, arrived on time and I was in Fukuoka. Masa was the guy running the hostel I would stay at. The instructions were to take the JR train from the airport to Hakata station, out the West exit and walk to the Royal Park Hotel. That was the closest landmark and he would come get me. This was the first time I needed the rental phone. I found the Royal Park and called Masa. Within 5 minutes he was there. The hostel is only a block away on the 11th floor of an office building, He checked me in and took me to the dorm for men. There are about 15 individual sleeping compartments and probably 10 were vacant at 11 am. I picked the one I thought would be the quietest and got ready for a day of sightseeing. I met Ryan, a guy from Texas in the common area. He is now living in Japan and knows his way around not only Fukuoka but all of Japan. Ryan said he was walking back to the Hakata station for lunch at the food court. I walked with him and we parted ways at the station. I had decided to visit Fukuoka Castle Ruins and Maizaru Park. I found the right train and got off close to the park. I have a Fukuoka map and just walked the streets until I found the park. There is a lake close to the entrance but it is too cold for anyone to rent the boats that are available. I found a few cherry blossom trees that were just starting to turn and got a few photos.
I saw a large Chinese Tour group heading across the street and fell in behind them. This is where I saw the difference between cultures. About half of the group made it across the street before the light changed. The ones left behind started to jaywalk to catch up with the group. But, there was a Japanese crossing guard stationed there and he shouted at them to get back on the sidewalk. Several Chinese decided to ignore him and cross anyway. That brought a response from the crossing guard! He ran into the street and forced all the jaywalkers back. The Chinese Tour guide must have shouted to stay there and he would wait for them. The Japanese follow the rules. They do not jaywalk, litter, run red lights, talk on their phones on trains, buses, etc. The Chinese? Not so much. Once across the street, I followed them to the Fukuoka Castle Ruins. It must have been impressive at one time, but not now. Several of the main walls are still standing, just not the upper sections. There is a nice view from the top and everyone trudges up the stairs. Unfortunately, most of the trees have not changed yet, so I did not get the photo all of us wanted: a sea of cherry blossoms with the city in the background. I did see plenty of Japanese groups picnicking under the trees even though they did not have blossoms on them yet. They spread their blankets, have their food and drink regardless if the cherry trees cooperate. They came for a Hanami Party and they would have one regardless of a lack of blossoms. I took some photos of them enjoying the decent weather under the trees. Several waved me over but just smiled and politely declined. Sitting on the ground is way too difficult for me at this stage of my life. I did not need young Japanese seeing an old American man struggling to sit on the ground! After walking the castle, I did see a few ladies dressed in traditional kimonos posing by the one cherry tree that was starting to change. Like everywhere else now, she was taking a 'selfie'. I walked back to the lake and got a few more of Hanami parties.

I followed my map and walked towards the subway station. Before I got to the subway station I found a 7-11 for my lunch. Egg salad sand, chocolate milk plus a carrot I had brought with me. Back to Hakata station, I walked to the bus station next to it. I wanted to find out times and prices to Hiroshima, my next city. Back at the hostel I took a shower and got on my laptop. Had some tea and killed time in the common room. There is no kitchen but they do have a kettle and a microwave. Enough to get by if you do buy some food at the store. Ryan came in around 5 pm and told me he was going over to Crossfit at 6 pm. He would be back around 7:30 and go out to dinner. I told him I would be here and went back to e-mailing and reading. He wanted to eat at a place more upscale than I wanted to pay so he walked with me to a grocery store a few blocks from the hostel. I bought noodles, carrots, bread, bananas. Back to the hostel, I used the microwave to fix my noodles, tea plus some bread. There are 4-5 chairs plus a couch for sitting. Masa also has a computer table and chair. This makes it easy to get online and use your laptop. A guy from San Francisco came into the common room and told me he was going around the world during the next year. He had plenty of good stories and travel advice so we chatted until 11 pm. The capsule is tall enough to sit up and read, a light, decent mattress, dark and quiet. Way better dorm experience than in Matsumoto. I like Brian, his kitchen is first rate, but the common area is difficult for those not used to sitting on the floor. Same with the futon bed in his dorm. At this stage of my life I need a Western style bed and chairs for sitting. I took my sleep pill and called it a night.

I was up around 7 am when I heard a guy moving around. I did not get any light clues because my capsule was not close to a window. Had some tea, bread, banana and try to decide what I wanted to do. The weather was good for Japan, cool, mostly sunny. Masa suggested Uminonakamichi Seaside Park for flowers, trees and a small zoo. He showed me on a map how to get there. I would rather walk around a park than a museum or the Fukuoka Tower. A short walk back to Hakata station, buy the ticket for the train, 460 yen and found the right platform. It was about a 40 minute train ride but I had all day so there was no hurry. The seaside park is almost the last stop on this route. I paid the 410 yen and entered the park I got a map and saw just how big the park. It is huge and many rent bicycles for the day. Plus they have a bus that makes a loop around the main parts of the park. I decided to walk and followed the map to the flower gardens. Huge swatches of flowers planted by type. The tulips were really colorful and were arranged by a small lake. After the flowers, I walked past the kid's playground and headed for the zoo. There were cherry trees along the path but most were not in bloom. I found the zoo and felt my legs starting to tire. I sat and watched the monkeys, flamingos for 20 minutes to rest. It is really designed for families. The kids would find in interesting but not adults. I checked my park map and decided there was nothing else I wanted to see. The park is 4 kilometers long and I was at the far end when I decided to leave. Now I wish I had rented a bike. I trudged back to the entrance and rested for awhile. The train runs about every 30 minutes and I had just missed one. I needed to rest anyway so was not disturbed by the wait. Uminonakamichi Park just has ticket machines, no people. I found the 460 yen button and bought my ticket. It does not matter if you get it wrong. There is always a fare adjustment option if you buy the wrong ticket. Once back at Hakata, I went to the 100 Yen Store. Just like our Dollar Stores, everything is 100 yen. I bought some noodles, bread and walked to the hostel. The dorm room was empty so I did some stretching, my sit-ups and then took a shower. Changed clothes and then hit the common room. I used the microwave to heat the noodles, kettle for tea and had my dinner. The SF guy came in and we talked about our day in Fukuoka. At 10 pm I crawled into my capsule, read a bit until I was sleepy and then lights out.

I got up at 6:30 am and packed my bags. It was rainy and cool during my walk to the bus station. I bought a ticket for Hiroshima, 4,000 yen and waited for the bus. Like all buses and trains in Japan, it left right on time. There are several short rest stops before we got into Hiroshima. I had some bread and carrots left so I ate that on the way. Around noon, we got into the bus station in Hiroshima. It was raining pretty hard so I headed quickly to the train station. I found the VC and got a tram map plus a sightseeing handout. I had the directions to the hostel and followed them. Hiroshima has a tram system downtown and I got on the red line or tram #2 to the Honkama-Cho stop, 160 yen. It is the next stop after the Atomic Bomb Dome (Peace Park) stop. I found the restaurant/bar owned by the same guys that run Tsuruya GH. Kenta gave me an umbrella and we walked to the hostel. He showed me to the male dorm and I picked a lower bunk that I thought would have the most privacy. Kenta gave me the access code to get back into the GH. A Chinese girl was sitting at the small counter and I asked her if she knew where a grocery store was located. They don't have anything in the hostel but a microwave. No kettle, cups, plates, spoons, nothing. It looks like I will be eating egg salad, carrots, bananas in Hiroshima. We walked to the store and I decided to buy noodles in a bowl. I can microwave it and I have a plastic fork, spoon with me. Noodles, bread, carrots for 600 yen and we walk back in the rain. I shower, clean up and change into my PJs. I am not going sightseeing in a pouring rain. After microwaving my noodles, I have that plus bread for lunch. I got online and sent some e-mails plus read about Hiroshima sightseeing. A few new guys come to the hostel and I have someone to chat with. That is how we killed the day. At 7 pm I fixed the other bowl of noodles and ate at the counter. I think it is so spartan because they want everyone to head for their bar for drinks and meals. And that is what most of the others do. I did my stretching, sit-ups while the place was deserted. Read until sleepy and bed at 10 pm. I did not get a very good night's sleep as one guy snored all night. A serious problem when in a dorm room.

I was up at 6:30 am and did my stretching out in the small lobby area. Pascal from Germany wanted to go to Miyajima Island and that was my plan as well. They serve a decent BF at their bar, egg, pancakes, fruit, tea for 300 yen starting at 8 am. After eating, Pascal left his bag there as he is moving on later today. We walked to the tram, then over to the subway. It is 500 yen R/T ticket to the island and a faster way than taking the tram. It is a nice day and hoards of people are getting on the ferry for the island. They run every 15 minutes as it is a short ride to Miyajima. We walked with the crowd and head for the best view of the famous Torii Gate. As we got closer, I see a couple on the beach in traditional Japanese attire. They are taking wedding photos with the Torii Gate in the background. I got in position to get a good shot of them but had to wait while the photographer's assistants made sure everything was perfect. I waited at least 10 minutes while they fiddled and fussed around with the couple. Finally, they got out of the way and I got a decent shot of the bride & groom. Pascal and I kept walking with thousands of others towards the Torii gate. I had him take a few of me with the gate in the background. Once we had that shot we paid a small fee to enter the Itsukushima Shrine area. It looked like Disneyland there were so many people lining up for tickets. The Japanese all stop at a purification trough to purify themselves by pouring water over each hand and rinsing their mouth. Since I am not following the Shinto religion, we gave it a pass. We walked the temple area and I spot a few cherry blossom trees up a hill. This is where we parted ways and I never saw Pascal again. He wanted to go for a several hour hike and I just wanted some photos of the cherry trees, temple and the deer that roam the island looking for food. I got all the shots I wanted and headed back to the ferry.

Off the ferry, back on the subway, then the tram to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. I was running out of energy so I stopped at the 7-11 close to Peace Park and had a sandwich. Once at Peace Park, I was getting a shot of the famous Atomic Bomb Dome that survived the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945 when I heard an American tour guide giving his spiel. He had a group of older Brits following him around the park. I just joined the group and learned about the bombing, the aftermath and the history behind some of the other memorials scattered in Peace Park. A took what photos I could including one tree that was starting to bloom. We toured the Children's Peace Monument, the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound, the Peace Clock and the Memorial Cenotaph. After the tour was over he encouraged us to go thru theHiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. I was there and most likely will never be in Peace Park again so I joined the Brits and paid the 200 yen to tour the museum. I should have passed. It was wall to wall people from the time I entered until I left. All you could do is shuffle along with the crowd. There are mostly photos of Hiroshima before and after the bomb. Stories of those who died that day and those that survived until radiation sickness killed them. As soon as I could step around the crowd, I left the museum walked out and had a bit more breathing room. The museum tells a powerful story and certainly wants to leave the visitor with the message that atomic weapons should never be used again. I think all of us agree on that. What is not displayed is why Japan was bombed by nuclear weapons in the the first place. Without Pearl Harbor, the utter rape of China and Japanese soldiers fighting the almost the last man on many islands, the US would not have felt the need to end the war with nuclear weapons. I walked towards my dorm and took a few photos of some cherry trees just starting to bloom along the canal. A stop at 7-11 for a sand and one at the grocery store for noodles, bread. Once back at the dorm at 5 pm, I got in my stretching and sit-ups, shower, change clothes. The place was almost deserted at 5 pm. By 6 pm a few new guests started arriving so I had someone to talk to. At 7 pm I had my noodles, bread and socialized until everyone left for the bar. Read my book, got on my laptop, took my pill at 10 pm and my day was over.

Posted by vegasmike6 12:38 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Chasing Sakura in Japan Part 3

Himeji & Kyoto

overcast 55 °F

I was up by 7 am and got some stretching in while everyone else was sleeping. I quietly packed my bags and walked to the bar. I was there at 8 am and had the same BF as yesterday, 300 yen. I took the tram back to the train station and booked a train to Himeji. There are no buses Hiroshima-Himeji so that was not an option. The only train option this early was the 'Shinkansen' or 'bullet train'. It is super fast but also stupid expensive. It only about an hour ride to Himeji but cost $75. I put it on my Visa card tried to forget about. The seats in first class look like seats you would find on a business class airplane. I went in the wrong door and got to see them but was directed to the non-reserved seats. Still comfortable compared to most trains, but nothing like first class. I settled in and the car filled up. We left on time and I was in Himeji well before the noon arrival I had time e-mailed Miho. Once at Himeji, I followed her instructions and got on the local train. Her stop is only 2 from the station, 190 yen. I got off at Gochaku and walked to her place. She had e-mailed detailed directions and I found it easily. The only problem was that nobody was home. I waited for 15 minutes and decided to call her. She was shopping but had left her car. In 10 minutes Miho arrived and gave me a tour of her place. She had a Western bed, small table, heating and a/c. The toilet is separate from the shower, full kitchen. I asked her where the closest grocery store was and she showed me. I could see it from her bedroom window. She is upstairs and the store is an easy walk from her place. I left my main bag and took my day bag with camera, water, etc. Back to Gochaku station, into Himeji. There is a info booth like all large Japanese train stations and I got a map of the city. Himeji Castle is rated as the best preserved castle in Japan. You can see it from the main entrance to the train station. I started walking to the castle and saw hundreds of people just off the main street. Some festival I guess. I took a few photos and moved on. Found a 7-11, had a sand plus chocolate milk and marched on to the castle.
I paid my 1,100 yen for the castle plus Kokoen Gardens next door. It is Sunday and the castle was just packed with locals and visitors. Hundreds of Japanese were camped under the cherry trees even though they were not blooming yet. It did not matter to them. It was Sunday, nice weather and so what if the trees did not co-operate? I walked most of the castle but decided not to enter. I was not going to make the same mistake I made at Matsumoto Castle. Very steep, narrow stairs and huge lines of people waiting to go up or down. No thanks. The views are not worth the danger and stress of steep , narrow stairs. IMO. There were a few trees that were flowering and I got what I could. After a few hours of walking the castle, I was getting tired. I started to sit very frequently and needed to plan my next move.

I looked at the map and the only thing I could do with the time & energy I had left was to tour the Kokoen Gardens next door. I walked there and did my best. There were enough people there that you just follow the people in front of you and go around the various gardens. About an hour of that and I was out of leg.
I started back to the train station stopping for another sand. and to rest. Back on the local train, off at Gochaku and walk past Miho's place. I found the grocery store and bought my eggs, bread, tea, bananas, 600 yen. Back to my room for some toast and tea. A quick shower and into my PJs. Time to rest, read, get on my laptop. I did some stretching, my sit-ups and fixed my dinner at 8 pm. Eggs, toast, tea, clean up the kitchen and get ready for bed. I took my pill and read until I was tired, 10 pm and my day was over.

Up at 6:30 am, I did my stretching, sit-ups and waited until I heard Miho making some noise. I fixed my eggs, toast, tea and asked her what was my best choice on sightseeing today. I had read about the Himeji Cental Zoo & Safari Park, Shoshanzan Engyoji Temple, Taiyo Castle & Stone Park. Miho echoed what TripAdvisor had said about the Safari Park. Expensive and not worth your time/money. I like the idea of the animals running wild and cage up the people. I have had enough of zoos that confine large animals to small spaces. I decided to vote no on the Safari Park and asked about Shoshazan Engyoji Temple. It is the second rated attraction after the Himeji Castle. But, it is basically another temple high on a mountain and entails a lot of walking. I like the peaceful setting away from the crowds plus some scenes of the 'Last Samurai' were filmed there, but voted no because of the all day transport plus extensive walking. So I made plans for the Taiyo Castle. It a replica of the famous Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany. Train to Himeji station then asked the info booth for what bus to take to the castle. I found the right bus and about 45 minutes later the driver signaled me that this was my stop. The castle is on the top of a hill so it is easily visible. However, it is a 20 minute hike to the ticket booth, 1,100 yen. I had to sit a few minutes to rest before walking to the funicular railcar that takes you to the top. There is a restaurant, gift shop that also has costumes for the ladies to wear when visiting the castle. Women seem to enjoy this dressing up and playing a role thing. I saw plenty of women trying on costumes, no men. Once at the top I just followed a Japanese family around the various floors. There is not much inside but a few dioramas, mannequins, toys and the 3D photo ops. But, that is why the kids love visiting the castle. It really is for families with younger children, not old men from Vegas! But, I did have fun watching the kids pose and take photos of each other. They did not speak much English, but we worked it out. They even took some photos of me with the 3D paintings. They made it fun for me because I would have been out of the castle much faster w/o seeing them enjoying the 3D paintings.
After riding the rail car back to the bottom, I walked over to the Stone Park. They have replicas of most of the world's famous stone monuments. First up is the Arc de Triomphe at the entrance. Of course they have The Great Wall of China, Xian terracotta warriors, Buddha, moai statues from Easter Island, etc. I ran out of leg and energy long before I got to the end of Stone Park. I finally just had to pack it in and walk to the entrance area. I basically walked from bench to bench. The lady at the ticket booth looked up the schedule and I had about 45 minutes before the bus would go past the place they let me off. There would not be a bus at the Stone Park entrance for almost 2 hours. I had my apple and carrot while resting and finally just started trudging for the bus stop. I was really out of gas and was happy to just sit and wait for the bus.

Another 490 yen and 45 minutes later I was back at the train station. Another 190 yen for the train and I walked to Miho's place. I fixed some tea, toast and rested before taking a shower. Into my PJs I got on my laptop and e-mailed Fumi, the lady I would be staying with in Kyoto. Around 7 pm I fixed my eggs, toast, tea, read, e-mail then time for bed. Another day of too much walking and sore legs.

I was up at first light and got my stretching, sit-ups in before having my BF. Pack and walked with Miho to the trains station. She was heading for a yoga class and I was on my way to Kyoto. I just bought a 190 yen ticket and got on the train to Kyoto. I could see that the cherry trees were in full bloom in Osaka as we passed thru. I decided if the cherry trees in Kyoto were not in full bloom, I would day trip Osaka. The train got into Kyoto around 11:30 am and I paid the proper fare at the fare adjustment kiosk. If you buy the wrong ticket, it is no big deal. You put your ticket in the slot and it will tell you how much you owe. The fare was really 1,100 yen so I put the owed amount in the slot. It spits out your corrected ticket and can now exit the platform. Kyoto station was a madhouse but finally found the tourist info center. Long line but wanted a Kyoto map and chat about where the best cherry blossoms were right now. I needed the Kosei line to Fumi's room. Another 410 yen and I was on my way to Katata station. Once there I called Fumi for instructions. She thought she could pick me up but that option was not going to happen. I followed her directions and 10 minutes later I was at her apt. building. The security guard called the apt. and sent me up the elevator. Fumi was waiting when I got off the elevator and lead me to her apt.. She and her BF Tomo have a beautiful, modern apt. Western kitchen, dining room and bedroom. By far the nicest Airbnb room of the trip. We chatted a bit and I wanted to go sightseeing as the weather was nice. Took my day bag and headed off for the train station. Next to the train station is a Family Mart and I bought a sand. there. Back to Kyoto station and got instructions for the subway to the Imperial Palace. The info center said there were some trees in full bloom at the Palace. 450 yen for the subway, out the exit and walked a kilometer to the Palace. It is a huge park and hoards of people were walking around like I was. Several of the trees were blossoming and I took quite a few photos as I walked the park. I came across the entrance to the Imperial Palace and lined up with the others to have our bags checked. I rested awhile in the cafeteria area then walked the Palace. There were few trees in bloom but several of the buildings were worth a photo. I ran out of legs and headed back to the subway.

Back to Kyoto Station, train to Katata Station, walk to Fumi's apt. I stopped at a grocery store on the way, bought my eggs, bread, soup, bananas. No answer to my ringing the door bell, I let myself in with the key she had provided. I fixed some toast, tea and brought my journal up to date. Showered and got into my jammies. At 7:30 I fixed my eggs, toast, tea and waited for someone to come home. At 9 pm they arrived and we had a chat before I headed for bed. I did my stretching, sit-its, read a bit and it was lights out at 10:30.

I was up at 7 am the next morning and decided to do my stretching, sit-ups while everyone was still sleeping. I fixed my eggs, toast, tea as quietly as I could. I got my day bag ready and walked to the train station. Back into Kyoto Station, I decided to hit the tourist office again. I could not see everything I wanted by taking trains, buses and walking. I just did not have enough energy to do it all like yesterday. There are several options on tours and I picked one that had the 3 most popular temples included. It was 5,700 yen, but just put it on my credit card and forgot about it. The buses leave right outside of the train station. Once everyone is aboard, the tour guide tells us in several languages about our day. The first temple on our list is Kiyomizu-dera Temple. I can see that like everything in Japan, it is going to be crowded. Our bus was one among a sea of tour buses. I wrote down the bus number and noted the color and cartoon character by the front door. I followed our guide up to the a restaurant and then she announced that we meet again here in 30 minutes. Lunch stop I think they have a deal with the restaurant they leave us at. I had my own snacks so I walked off to see what photo ops were close-by. I found some steep stairs that had some nice cherry trees in view. The streets were just packed with people and did what I could before meeting the group. I quickly lost the group as I stayed longer taking photos of some ladies in kimono's. They handed me their cameras and wanted me to take several of them. I saw more ladies in kimonos at this temple than any other place in Japan. I could not find my group but just followed the crowd to the top and then back down to the shops and restaurants that line the street leading to the bus parking area. I was one of the first back on the bus and chatted with the guide until all were aboard. It was like Disneyland it was so crowded. Just hoards of people arriving and departing the temple area.

Off we go to Kinkaku-ji Temple or 'Golden Pavilion'. It is a Zen Temple and the top 2 floors are covered in gold leaf. Same routine as Kiyomizu-dera Temple. The guide posts what time to be back on the bus and they are not kidding. They will leave w/o you we are told. This temple is not quite as crowded, but still difficult to walk w/o running into people as they stop for photos. Plenty of selfies or group shot selfies. The world seems to be addicted to smartphone selfies and texting constantly. We finish with this temple and on to the last temple, Ginkauku-ji, or 'Silver Pavilion'. More crowds, jostling for position when taking a photo. On the way to the bus I saw that there is a canal with heaps of cherry trees in full bloom. It is 'Philosopher's Path' I should have spent my time walking this path rather than the temple. I do have about 5 minutes before the bus departs and get what I can. Then back on the bus for our next temple.

We pass some Torii Gates that have plenty of cherry blossoms in full bloom. I wish we would have stopped there but it was not on the agenda. I did get the name of the temple and found out it was Hirano Shrine. I found it on my map and decided I would hit it tomorrow. Once back at the station I found the right train and back to Fumi's apt. I had some toast, tea and told Fumi about my day. Another guy arrived at 6 pm. He would be staying in another room they have to rent. Obviously they are using Airbnb money to help pay for their apt. I don't know what the rent is but it must be substantial in this building. I had to wait for fix my eggs as Fumi was using the kitchen for their meal. I brought my journal up to date and chatted while she cooked. Once she was finished, I fixed my eggs, toast, and tea. The new renter was Japanese but living in Thailand. Since I have been to Thailand many times, we had a good conversation. He has a wife and children in Thailand but his parents are in Japan. I retired to my room to e-mail, read and get ready for bed.

I was up by 7 am, stretch, sit-ups, out for BF. I was very quiet as nobody else was up yet. Eggs, toast, tea, clean up and get ready for my day. I walked to the train at 9:30. I did not want to fight the rush hour crowd. Once at Kyoto station, I stood in line to get into the TO. Kyoto is just packed with locals and visitors. Not as bad as Tokyo, but very busy. The lady behind the desk gave me a map and told me what city bus to take to the Hirano Shrine. The bus was standing room only and I rode it until my stop. The impressive Torii Gate lets all know that a Shinto Shrine is inside. There are over 400 Cherry trees at Hirano and most were at full bloom. I got plenty of cherry tree shots and then walked to the shrine. There is a 400 year old Camphor tree here plus an o-mamori booth. Many Japanese are buying the paper or wooden plaques to write their prayers and wishes and then hang them on the racks provided. Some were in English and I got some photos of them as well. I watched the Japanese go through the cleansing ritual at the shrine. Right hand pours water over the left, left over the right, then rinse your mouth with the flowing water at all Shinto Shrines. I was running out of energy and started sitting at some of the benches around the shrine. I saw on my map that Kitano Termansu Shrine was on my way back to the bus stop. Got some photos and then sat while I had some bread and an apple I had in my day bag. Hit the bathroom and was ready to hike to the nearest bus stop. Another 230 yen for the bus, into the train station and another 410 yen back to my room. I stopped at the store for more noodles, bread. I had toast and tea while chatting with Fumi. Brought my journal up to date, shower and then the other guy showed up. We had a nice chat about living in Thailand and his travels. We are both leaving tomorrow. he is going to his parents home up by Matsumoto and I am heading for Nara. Socialize, my dinner, got on the computer, read until sleepy, bed.

Posted by vegasmike6 22:12 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Chasing Sakura in Japan Part 4

Nara & Mt. Fuji

overcast 55 °F

I was up at 7 am, exercise, BF, pack and get ready to leave Kyoto. Fumi told me she was taking the train into Kyoto and we walked in the rain together. I said goodbye to her at the Kyoto station and gave her the umbrella she lent me. I found the ticket office and bought a ticket for Nara, 710 yen. I had some time to kill and just went to the platform to wait for my train. Nara is only 45 minutes away and once in Nara, I went to the TO for advice and a map. I followed the instructions Kenta had e-mailed me and found my room after about a 10-minute walk He had left the key in the mailbox for that room. A nice room with a small kitchen, Western bed. I loaded up my day bag and walked back to the train station. Nara has an all day bus pass for 500 yen so I bought that. According to my map, the N 7 stop is close to the Kasuga Taisha Shrine. There are plenty of deer roaming around and I take a few photos of them begging for food. This is why most come to Nara. Over a thousand deer live in Nara Deer Park and we all want to take photos of them, pet them, feed them. After getting some photos of the Shrine, I walk towards the famous Todaiji Temple. There are many cherry trees in full bloom as I make my way to the temple. This is why I came to Japan in early April. Sakura season is in full swing in Nara! I take plenty of photos and then join the throngs going into the Todaiji Temple, 500 yen.
There is a huge Buddha looking down on you as you enter and plenty of people are praying and performing their rituals. I get some photos of all the statues and then follow the crowds for the exit. I watch as several people crawl through a hole carved in a giant log. According to those performing this ritual, a person is guaranteed 'paradise' or heaven with this manuver. I tell the guy that spins this yarn that a straight shot to 'paradise' by simply crawling through a hole in a log is a little hard to swallow. Under this scenario, a guy who commits multiple murders can still get into 'heaven' with a quick crawl through this log. Shoots the law of karma right out the window. I made my way out and saw many people stopping and looking back towards the temple. I turn and see why. A cherry tree is in full bloom and frames the temple. It is a good shot and I take several plus have one taken with me in it.

I had enough deer and cherry blossom photos for one day and headed for the bus stop. Once back at the train station, I buy some food at the grocery store next to the station. Walk to my room and rest. I did my exercises, shower, toast tea, journal, read, e-mail. At 7:30 I fixed my eggs, toast, tea and read my book. The problem was I had already read it. I had hoped to trade books with someone along the way but it never happened. Oh well, I like Lee Child's Jack Reacher series and just started reading it again. Took my sleep pill at 10 pm and hit the sack.

Up at 6:30, I do my usual routine: exercise, BF, get ready for the day. It was very overcast and starting to rain when I walked to the train station. I bought another all day bus pass and went back to the Deer Park. I bought some of those biscuits that the ladies sell to feed the deer, 150 yen. I wanted a few shots of me feeding the deer with some cherry trees in the background. I walked the Kohfukuji Temple and then the Gangoji Temple. I had enough tree and deer shot by now and decided to get out of the rain. Bus back to the train station, walk to my room to rest, noodles and tea. I got on the computer and researched getting from Kyoto to Mt. Fuji. It is just silly expensive to reach Mt. Fuji from the Kyoto side. I decide to cancel my Airbnb room in Fujiyoshida and e-mail Kouji that I would not be needing his room. More Internet on getting to Tokyo from Kyoto. Eggs, toast, tea at 8 pm, read, sleep pill, bed at 10 pm.

I was up at 5:30 am, fixed my BF and started getting ready to leave. I cleaned the kitchen, dishes, packed and was at the train station by 7 am.
I bought a ticket to Kyoto and was there by 9 am. I had priced the train and bus options to Tokyo online and of course the bus is about half of the cost of the train. I found the bus company outside of the station and bought my ticket to Tokyo, 1,750 yen. Bought some french bread at the station and waited for my bus. We left at 10:30 for Tokyo. It rained all day and that made our stops for lunch and bathroom a wet affair. I did not have an umbrella with me so I just put on my hat and walked quickly into the building. I bought some rolls for 120 yen and munched on that plus my remaining bread, carrots as we made our way to Tokyo. We got in about 5 pm and I made my way to the proper platform. I recharged my PASMO card and headed for Keikyu Kamata station. I wanted to stay with Miho again but she was booked for my return dates. I had booked 2 nights with Shuhua close to Miho's apt. I had e-mailed Shuhua about staying 1 extra day while in Nara. Since I had used the Kamata station before, I had no problem getting there. I stopped at the TO in Kamata station and they called Shuhua for me. She sent her father to the TO and I followed him to their apt. It is not far from Kamata station but it is difficult to find the first time. She showed me my room and then I got a piece of bad news. My room, the toilet, and shower are on the ground floor. The kitchen and their rooms are on the second floor. Visitors are not allowed on the second floor. I will not be able to fix any meals while staying here. I walked to a 7-11 not far away and bought an egg salad sand. chocolate milk and some bananas. That would have to do for dinner. I showered, stretched and got on the computer to kill some time before bed. Took my pill, read until sleepy and turned in.

I checked the weather and today was going to be OK. I had researched day trips to Mt. Fuji last night and decided to take the bus there. I got on the train and headed for Shinjuku. Many of the buses leave from across the street from Shinjuku train station. I found it with the help of the TO and got in line for the bus to Mt. Fuji. It was about 9:30 am and she told me that everything was booked until 2:30 pm. That would not work but they do have a stand-by list. I was number 11 on the list and I thought I had very little hope of getting out on the 9:45 bus. But surprisinly they called my number. They got up to number 6 and then all the others ahead of me were couples. They had 1 seat left and I was the next single traveler. Good bus, good driver and well built highways make bus travel a very nice option while traveling around Japan. Most visitors have the Japan Rail Pass so they use the trains for all travel. If you don't buy the rail pass, the bus system will get you most places for about half the cost. Don't be hesitant to use the bus system while in Japan. Once at the Kawaguchiko station, I fight my way into the TO for maps, advice. You take a number and wait your turn. It is just packed with people and I decide I will just walk around instead of fighting my way on to a bus that takes you closer to Mt. Fuji. First on the agenda is get a ticket back to Tokyo. The buses run every half hour or so. There is a ticket window but it is packed with people. I found a kiosk and buy my ticket there. Another 1,750 yen, leaving at 3 pm. That gives me enough time to walk the small city and try to get a better view of Mt. Fuji than at the train station. That did not work as most of the buildings block the view or you have power lines in the shot. I did walk down to the Lake Kawaguchi but a large hotel blocks the view. Back to the station, I find a 7-11 and buy a sand. and some chocolate milk. A couple from Singapore were kind enough to take a few of me with Fuji in the background. Time for my bus and we are transported back to Tokyo.

Off at Shinjuku, PASMO card to Shinagawa, switch to Keikyu line off at Kamata. I go to the grocery store I used when I stayed with Miho. It is out the West exit, only a block away. Since I cannot cook, I some bread, carrots, apple and chocolate milk. I find Shuhua's apt. and ring the bell. No answer. they did not give me a key or code to the door. I try knocking, no response. There is a bench outside for removing your shoes and I decide to wait for them to come home. Had my bread, milk, carrots while waiting. Except nobody shows up. I try calling their number but no answer. It is now dark and approaching 7 pm. I know the tourist office is open until 7 and walk back there. I hand them my info sheet and where I am staying and they call the number. No answer. Now I am getting concerned. She calls again and the husband answers. It turns out they are next door to the TO getting some photos printed of their new baby. Shuhua walks in and apologizes for not being home or giving me the code to get in. I sit with her and her father while the husband picks the prints. He never speaks to me and after 5 minutes Shuhua and her father decided to walk back to their apt. and let me in. She is sorry I went thru this and brings me a cup of tea. I have my tea with some bread and then have a shower before the family does. The room is OK, but would not recommend it over Miho's place in Tokyo. Both are around $40/nite but Miho lets you use the kitchen and is just a warmer person than Shuhua and her husband. I pass the time on the computer, reading, exercise, bed.

Today is my last day in Japan. As forecast, it is raining and predicted to rain all day. I am not going to try and see anything in the rain, so ask Shuhua for some tea. I have tea and my remaining bread while killing time on the computer. At noon I borrow an umbrella and walked to the TO in Kamata station. They have some low priced souvenirs and buy a few for my friends in Vegas. I get a key chain that has the 2020 Tokyo Olympic logo for myself. After buying them, I walked in the cold rain over to the grocery store to get a choc. milk, bread, banana, carrots & cookies. I stopped at a 7-11 close to my room for a sandwich. That with the milk would be lunch. I spent the day in my room away from the rain. Shuhua brought me some tea later in the afternoon and I had that with some bread for a snack. More computer, reading, nap. At 8 pm I had some bread, banana, carrots. I did my exercises, shower, read and called it a day.

I was up at 6 am and did my exercises, had my remaining banana, bread. Clean up, pack and walked over to Kamata station for the train to Haneda. Perfect weather today. Clear skies, no rain. Just bad luck today was nice when I was leaving instead of yesterday when I could have gone sightseeing. I had plenty of time before my flight but did not want to stay in my room. I rather spend the time at the airport. I got a refund from what was left on my PASMO card then walked to the foreign exchange booth and converted my remaining yen into USD. I walked to the United kiosk and checked in to get a boarding pass. I found a quiet area and just read my book for an hour or so. I checked my coins and had enough for a sand. chocolate at the 7-11. I ate, brushed my teeth, read some more and then walked to the gate. Japan has the most modern toilets I have seen. Many have heated seats, two different sprays to clean yourself, auto flush. I took some photos of them and walked to my gate.

I was early enough to stretch, bring my journal up to date, read. I asked the United desk ladies if I could check my bag there. If it is a legal carryon they will check it for no charge. I put what I needed in my day bag, checked and waited to board. They board by sections and since I was section 5, I was one of the last ones on the plane. I had an aisle seat so no need to get there before the window and center seat are filled. I got lucky as an older couple from Victoria Canada were in my row. We had a nice chat about Canada, Las Vegas, Japan. They have a son living in Tokyo, married to a Japanese lady and a new granchild. They were seeing their grandchild for the first time. Needless to say she had plenty of photos on her phone of their family. I got up many times to stretch my legs, bathroom and just avoid sitting too long at one time. Usually when I got up one of them would use the opportunity to hit the bathroom as well. I watched 3 movies including La La Land. Decent movie but did not like the ending. Americans want a happy ending and you don't get that with La La Land. We got into SFO early and I breezed thru Customs and Immigration. With all the kiosks available for US citizens, it goes pretty quickly. I hiked over to where to flight to Vegas is leaving and get the bad news. The flight is delayed an hour, the crew is not there yet. Oh well, I had my remaining crackers, granola bar that I brought with me from Vegas. I was hoping to be bumped but the flight was not full. I would take $400-500 for arriving in Vegas a few hours later. I was going to call my nephew Kevin when I arrived in LV so a few hours would not make a difference. Once in Vegas I called Kevin and walked to the arriving passenger area. I only had to wait perhaps 5 minutes before Kevin pulled up. My 21 day adventure in Japan was over.

Posted by vegasmike6 22:59 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

7,000 Mile Road Trip Plus Iceland, Part 1

Bryce NP, Colo. Monument, Rocky Mt. NP, Poney Express, Hoover Library, Wright-Patterson Museum, Gettysburg, Philadelphia, New York City.

sunny 80 °F

I added Iceland to my bucket list after watching a few shows on Discovery channel. Dramatic scenery, glaciers, volcanoes, Iceland is the land of fire and ice. I told my nephew I was thinking of visiting Iceland and he suggested I looked at WOW Airlines for a low fare. I had never heard of WOW but he plays games on the computer and several of the guys he plays with live in Iceland. I pulled up the WOW website and started comparing airfares with Icelandic Air. No comparison. WOW was much cheaper. Like most discount airlines, they charge you for extra for everything. If WOW is flying where you want to go, compare and see it makes sense for you.

I mentally divided the trip into 3 phases: drive to Boston, Iceland for 8 days, drive back to Las Vegas. I got a great airfare with WOW Air by departing from BOS. The other option was to fly out of LAX, but I wanted to see the Buffalo Roundup in Custer State Park on Sept. 30th. A friend of mine is a professional photographer and Gregg urged me to visit CSP during the Roundup if possible. They only do the Roundup one day a year, so that date was fixed in stone. I would drive it and hit several of our National Parks going there and coming home. I looked at WOWs prices departing in Sept. and found Sept. 11th was the cheapest date to fly. I booked it with a return flight on Sept. 20th. I paid $300 r/t trip with WOW. Icelandic was over $600 for the same dates. Even paying for seat selection, baggage, food, you will be saving serious money by flying WOW Air to Iceland.

I left Las Vegas August 25th and headed for Bryce Canyon NP. It was still very hot out West and I wanted to sleep where it was still cool at night. Very hard to sleep in your van when it is too hot. Bryce is about 5 hours from Vegas, got there around 3pm. Plenty of camping spots still open. This week all vehicles get into all National Parks for free as it is the 100 yr anniversary for the Park Service. Bryce NP now charges $30 per car for 7 days. I have my Golden Age Pass so all NPs are free for Seniors. One perk for getting older! Entered Bryce, got the newsletter, map and headed for Sunset Campground. I have stayed in Sunset campground before and knew the ropes. Found a spot, left some water on the table and back to the entrance. Camping is now $18/night here, I pay half so I put my $18 in the envelope for my 2 nights. I had enough time to walk to Sunset Point and take an hour walk/hike. I wanted to eat and then listen to the Ranger program at the Bryce Lodge, 8 pm. Got some decent photos, soup for dinner, then drove to the Lodge. It is not that far, but walking back in the dark is not a smart idea IMO. The Ranger's topic was Bryce at night. Bryce has less light pollution than most of the US. Very good spot for watching the stars. Informative talk then we all headed outside to view the night sky. Most of us that live in cities, esp. Las Vegas never see many stars. Several had binoculars plus the Ranger had a telescope we could use. With no clouds and very little light pollution, the stars were on full display, very impressive. Back to Sunset, bed. My first day on the road was over.

I am not a good sleeper in my own bed, let alone in the back of my Odyssey. I took my prescribed sleeping pill, but still had difficulty sleeping. I got up with the sun and fired up my stove for my BF. I have oatmeal at home, I will on the road as well. Over to the bathroom to clean the dishes and myself. I drove over to Sunset Point for a morning hike. I chose the Navajo Trail hike. Not that difficult but it gets you down among the hoodoos. The perfect weather brought out plenty of hikers but it was not too bad. I got plenty of decent photos and some good exercise. There was a lady that was using an off-road type of scooter. I talked to her and her husband about using it on the trail even with limited mobility. After getting back to the rim, I drove to the Lodge and left my van there. I was going to use the free shuttle rather than drive to each location and have to find a parking spot. I got off at Ruby's Inn, just outside the park. Bought a sandwich for lunch and just relaxed for awhile. Shuttle back to the Visitors Center for the movie and exhibits. Shuttle to the Lodge, then killed time until the Ranger talk. I had my laptop, so e-mailed, cruised the web and read my book until 8 pm. I had some fruit and then sat in on tonight's talk on historic Bryce. It was OK but not nearly as fun as the night sky lecture yesterday. Drove back to Sunset campground, bed at 10 pm.
I got up at first light and headed out. I had my camera ready as there are plenty of deer in Bryce. I saw a few as I exited the park, got a couple photos and headed for I-70 East. I stopped when I hit Red Canyon in the Dixie National Forest. Some of their landscape is almost as pretty as Bryce. Certainly worth a stop if you have time.
I took a few photos and moved on. I wanted to make it to Colorado National Monument (CNM), just outside Fruita. There is a Visitor Center right next to the Veteran's Memorial Park. I used their restroom, then had lunch at Wendy's next door to the Vet's Park. I then headed uphill to CNM. It is quite a steep climb but you are rewarded with great views once you get to the top. I got in around noon, hit the VC, got maps, info and found a camping spot in Saddlehorn Campground. $10/night for seniors. Just down the road from Saddlehorn is the Window Rock Trail. It is not a difficult hike, but has some nice views of the canyon. Back to the VC for some advice and then decide to drive to the Coke Ovens Trail. This was about an hour hike with plenty of elevation changes. Got some photos and then back to the campground to clean up and fix dinner. I only have eggs or soup, so went with eggs & bread. Not much to do when you are camping in your van, so went to bed when it got dark.
Up with the sun and I headed for Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). I used to ski in Winter Park and knew there was a shorter way to RMNP. I took I-70 East to Wolcott, then 131 North. You can take a dirt road to Kremmling off 131. I used to take this route instead of going over Vail Pass, Eisenhower Tunnel, and Berthoud Pass to get to Winter Park. Several raft companies use this road to access the Colorado River. Rancho Del Rio has camping and river access to rafters. I followed one of their trucks until their turnoff and keep heading for Kremmling. At Granby, I filled up with gas and bought a Subway to eat while driving to RMNP. Great weather in Granby, but got increasingly cloudy as I approached RMNP on Hiway 34. I bought a National Park Passport when I was in Bryce. I should have bought one many years ago when I was hitting the National Parks in the 80s & 90s. I stopped at the Kawuneeche Visitors Center, close to the Grand Lake entrance. I got my stamp, map, headed up Trail Ridge Road. It started to rain as I climbed towards the Continental Divide. I stopped a few times for photos, but did not get much as the rain started to get serious the higher I went. It was a mixture of rain, snow at the top. This is late August! No wonder Trail Ridge Rd. is closed for most of the year. Plan A was to camp close to the Estes Park entrance. Even in the rain, all campgrounds were full. I went into the town of Estes Park to find The Wheel Bar. A friend of mine from Las Vegas moved to Estes Park back in the late 70s to help run the bar. His father owned it and needed help as he got older. I talked to one of the bartenders, but Steve was not there that day. He called his cellphone, but only got voice mail. I left a note telling him I was passing thru, but would be heading East since he was not there.
I stayed on 34 thru the Big Thompson Canyon, on to Greeley, met up I-76 East. I decided to just drive until I got tired. I priced a few motels as I drove thru small towns in Nebraska, but could not find one under $50. I made it to Ogallala, found a Subway shop for dinner, and followed my GPS to the closest Walmart. Almost all Walmart's let RVs, big rigs, vans park overnight without hassling them. I went inside to use their restroom, bought some fruit, then crawled in the back of my van and went to bed around 10 pm. I was up with the sun the next day and headed East. I stopped at Gothenburg to walk thru the Pony Express Station. Chatted with the docent at the station and found out I was not the first person from Vegas to visit that day. That was a surprise. A couple of photos and back on the road.
Grand Island, Lincoln, Omaha, cross the Missouri River and into Iowa. Now I just needed to get in some long days driving to get to Gettysburg. My plan was to camp close to Gettysburg until my Airbnb room in Philadelphia was ready. I stayed at Pine Lake SP outside of Des Moines. $10/night for seniors. Had a hot shower, teeth, bed at 10:30 pm. Up at first light, I got back on I-80 and headed East. Stopped at West Branch for the Herbert Hoover Library and Museum. Paid the fee, got some photos and an hour of walking. One of the problems of driving cross country is getting some exercise. I try to get some walking & stretching in each day, but some days seemed to be mostly getting some serious miles in each day. After the museum, I headed for Indiana. I tried to get an Airbnb room in Indianapolis but could not find anyone online while I was. Got to Indianapolis in the rain and settled for another night at a Walmart parking lot. Up early, on to Dayton Ohio and decided to visit the National Museum of the US Air force. The Air Museum is at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and has its own entrance. I missed the entrance the first time, found it and went in. I spent 3 hours walking the exhibits and taking photos. The museum tells the history of flight from the Wright Brothers to the Space Shuttle. Anyone who likes aviation should try to visit this museum.
Back on I-70, I headed for Wheeling West Virginia. Same routine. Wendy's for dinner and e-mail, then find a Walmart for a quiet night's sleep. The next day I drove into Pennsylvania and got on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. If you are headed for Gettysburg or Philadelphia, the turnpike is really your only choice. I got off on highway 30 and headed for Chambersburg. I stopped for gas, food before driving to Caledonia State Park (CSP). I was going to be camping for 2 nights and needed bananas, eggs, bread. I had checked online and priced camping in the Gettysburg National Military Park area. Private campgrounds were around $40/night so I decided to stay in CSP. $15/nite, no break for seniors. I paid for 2 nights and picked #8. I wanted another night but they were full because of Labor Day. I drove to Gettysburg, Visitor Center (VC) for my stamp, maps, advice. There was a Ranger talk in 10 minutes on medical care during the Civil War. Informative, then another Ranger talk on the overall strategy of both the Union and Confederate armies. After the talks, I walked to the cemetery where President Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. Saw there was another Ranger talk on the battle for Cemetery Ridge, got some photos and several hours of walking in. I hit Wendy's for dinner and wifi before driving back to CSP and bed. They have hot showers and hit those before turning in.
Up with the sun, fix my oatmeal, dishes, clean up and head back to Gettysburg. I went with the Ranger for the Cemetery Ridge walk. Photos, then back to VC. I signed up for the President Eisenhower Farm Tour, $15. Tour of his house and farm. Shuttle bus back to VC, then I drove to the Confederate Ave. The vast majority of the monuments at Gettysburg are Union. Well, after all the Union did win the battle and the war. The winners get to put up monuments and memorials. But there is a road dedicated to the Confederate side of the battle.
Photos and then I found a picnic area to stretch, read kill time before going to Wendy's for dinner and wifi. I tried to get online most days to e-mail friends, my nephew. Drove back to CSP, shower, bed. Up with the sun, fix my oatmeal, back to Gettysburg. I went on the Lincoln's Gettysburg Address tour. I did not want another day of walking the monuments so I decided to drive to Antietam Battlefield. I got off the road when I saw a Visitors Welcome Center to Maryland. The guy recommended I stop at Monocacy National Battlesite. It was worth maybe 30 minutes, then on to Antietam. Into the VC, got my stamp, short film on the battle and a Ranger talk on what happened and what to see. After Gettysburg, Antietam is a very poor second place. Got a few photos, drove back to CSP. I did not have a camp spot, but knew I could use their showers easy enough. Drive in like you belong, stop in the parking lot by the showers. Nobody checks and I was on my way in 20 minutes. Back to Wendy's for dinner and then hit the Walmart next to it for bed.
I could not check-in to my Airbnb room in Philly until noon. I saw that the Harrisburg, Capitol of Pennsylvania was on the way to Philly and decided to go that way. I stopped at the Capitol but it was early Sunday morning. Nothing open, but took some photos as I walked around the building. Got on I-76, the Penn. Turnpike and headed for Philly. I saw that Valley Forge Historical Park was close. Got off and followed the signs. It was the Sunday before Labor day and the place was packed. With the crowds, I had to use the overflow parking lot. Hike over to the VC. got my stamp, map and headed out to see what I could of Valley Forge. There was a Ranger giving a talk about the winter the Continental Army spent at Valley Forge but lost interest and walked away. I walked over to the replica huts that are on display. Each hut housed 12 soldiers and were constructed by the men that would live in them. I wanted to spend more time at Valley Forge, but it was hot, crowded and I wanted to check into my room as close to noon as possible.
I headed for Philly and my Airbnb room for the next 2 days. I used my GPS to find his address. Thank goodness. Without GPS it would have been much more difficult because of all the one-way streets. I got lucky and parked my van almost right in front of Pat's Airbnb place. Checked in and unpacked. I talked to Pat about getting down to the historic section of Philly. It was very easy. Take the blue line train to the historic section and walk to the huge VC. Plenty of maps, advice on what to see. I walked to several of the major sightseeing attractions, photos then train back to my room. I was pretty tired and just fixed my eggs. toast, shower, read and hit the bed. I was up at 6am, did my stretching, sit-ups, fixed my oatmeal, toast and got ready for a full day of sightseeing. I bought a ticket for National Constitution Center, film, exhibits and the statues of all the signers of the Constitution. The US Mint, Ben Franklin's Grave, Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Betsy Ross's house, and historic Elfret's Alley. Just had snacks all day so was pretty hungry when I got back to Pat's place. Eggs, toast, shower, some TV downstairs with Pat, bed. I did my stretching, sit-ups, clean-up, my oatmeal, toast, got ready to leave. I hung around for 30 minutes waiting for Pat to appear. He did not so I headed for NYC.

I programmed my GPS for the Airbnb in Queens where I would be staying 3 nights. Pay the bridge toll and GPS took me right to Rockaway Blvd. Called Amy, the lady renting her rooms. She came out and moved her van so I could park right in front of her house. Got settled in and asked her how to get to Manhattan. She drew on a map how to get to the train, when to get off. Had a PBJ sand, got my backpack ready and walked to the Green Line. I bought a $10 fare card that should be enough for my trips back/forth to Manhattan. I got off at and decided to walk the Brooklyn Bridge. Light rain, but not bad. Some photos and started chatting with the bus guys selling their hop on, hop off tours. I picked Grayline Tours as they had the best 2 day deal. $54 that included a boat tour of the harbor. One World Trade is an easy walk from the tour bus spot and decided to take a look. I took a few photos but did not get much due to the weather. I saw that my subway station was right there so I headed back to Queens. Back to my room, fixed eggs, toast, shower, chat with Amy and her husband Eddie. I tried to watch TV but they don't have cable or satellite, so came in enough to watch. Read my book, bed. I walked to Cresent station, into Manhattan, found the bus and started my day. We went by the bull outside of Wall St. then down to the harbor for the boat trip around the Statue of Liberty. I had to wait about 30 minutes but just had a snack and watched the boats. We had nice weather and got some good photos of Lady Liberty, Ellis Island and the skyline of NYC from the water. The tour boat came up the Hudson River and the pilot told us about the day 'the miracle on the Hudson' happened. He was piloting his tour boat that day and rushed to help the passengers. As did many other boats that were closeby. You get a nice view of the New Jersey skyline as well as New York's as they approach the docking area. The docks are not too far from the USS Intrepid. It was $30 to tour the ship, a bit steep but since I was there I got in line. Except there was no line. It was closed for a political event. The First lady was going to speak and so it was closed for several hours. Got back on the tour bus to Times Square. Then transferred to the one going to Central Park. The stop is next to the
Dakota Building and I walked over. A tour guide was telling his group about the building and the day John Lennon was killed. According to the guide, Yoko Lennon still lives in the Dakota as do many other famous people. Anyone that does live there has to have a substantial bank account. There is no cheap place to rent or buy next to Central Park. I got as many photos of the park and surrounding buildings as I could, but did not see hardly any of Central Park. You would literally need days of walking to cover it all. I cut thru the park as I needed to get to the East side to get back on the tour bus., Next stop was Chinatown and got off there. I walked a few blocks but did not see much worth a photo. I guess I was on the wrong street. Walking back towards the bus pick up area, I saw a subway entrance. Found the one back to Queens and headed back to Cresent Station, A short walk and I was back at Amy's place. She was upstairs with Eddie and we chatted about my day. Fixed my eggs and toast for dinner, then a quick shower before bed. There is a TV in the room but coulod not get anything to come in clear enough to watch. Up early the next, BF and get ready for another day in NYC. Subway to Manhattan then walked to One World Trade Center, It is $35 for seniors to go to the top, but paid it as it is probably a once in a lifetime event. Great views from the top and good weather. I took plenty of photos and then down to the footprint of the North & South Twin Towers. All along the edge are the names of those who died that day. I then walked the Brooklyn Bridge again. I had much better weather today than a few days ago. Hopped on the tour bus to Times Square. Then bus to the Museum of Natural History, $17. I walked as much as I could, but could not see everything in the time I had. Up to Harlem, got off the visit the St. John the Devine Cathedral. St. It is the largest gothic cathedral in the world. There is a suggested $10 donation to enter. I took some photos inside and then a few of the 11 acre 'close' outside. I got back on the bus and rode back to Times Square, There was a subway at Times Square and figured out how to get back to Queens. It had been a full day and I was tired of walking. Once back to Amy's, I had my eggs, toast, then shower and bed. I got up early, had my BF and started packing to leave. I said goodbye to Amy, programmed my navigation system and headed for Mass.

I was heading for Gardner where my friend Steve runs Standard Chair of Gardner. I was good friends with Richard, his uncle who ran Standard Chair with Steve's father Mel for many years. Richard had died in April at age 82. We talked on the phone about my Iceland trip and Steve said I could stay with him and leave my van at his house in Leominster Mass. I had been to Gardner many times to visit Richard over the years and knew where Walmart, Dollar Stores were. I wanted to hit the office at 4pm to chat with the office ladies I knew. I got to see Linda, Donna, Joy, Wendy before they got off at 5pm. We talked about the sudden death of Richard and how the office was running w/o him. He had been a fixture for over 30 years running Standard Chair so it was a big blow to everyone when he got ill and died. More than a few tears were shed recounting his life. Steve had me follow him to Leominster and his house. His wife was away for the weekend so it worked out perfect. I spent Sat. with Steve, we got in a workout at his fitness center, movie, pizza and then Sunday was time to fly to Iceland.

Posted by vegasmike6 21:50 Archived in USA Tagged parks Comments (0)

7,000 Mile Road Trip Plus Iceland, Part 2

Iceland, Reykjavik, Golden Circle Tour, South Coast Tour, Lava Cave Tour.

rain 44 °F

Sunday morning. I had my oatmeal, then we took Holly for a long walk. After the walk, I took a quick shower and went over my final packing list. I am packing very light so I am leaving my laptop and most of my clothes with Steve. WOW Air only allows 1 carry-on for free, max 5 kilos. I am going to wear all my cold weather clothes on the plane to stay under the 5-kilo limit. About 40 minutes before the train departure time, Steve drove me to the train. We had time to chat before the train to Boston pulled in. He was going to keep my van and possessions until my return from Iceland. I got on, found a seat and bought a ticket from the conductor. It was $7 for seniors to Boston North Station. I asked her about getting to Logan from the train station. She was kind enough to write down the route for me. Once at the North Station, I walked to the subway station, bought the Charlie Pass. I had to transfer once but it stops right at Logan. The shuttle bus takes you from the subway station to your airline. I found WOW Air check-in and gave them my passport, flight details. They do weigh your carry-on but I was close enough to 5 kilos that she let it go. I was there early so I bought a sandwich at the airport, found the right gate, read my book, ate and waited. An announcement tells us that our flight was running an hour late to Reykjavik. Nobody cared as the flight usually gets into KEF at 4:30am. Now we would get there at 5:30am. Not a big deal as nothing in Reykjavik is open until 8am. It was a decent flight, no complaints on my part. Of course food is extra but I had my granola bars so did not feel the need to order anything. The prices were not that bad if you did need a snack. Landed in Keflavik around 6am and we lined up for Customs & Immigration. Iceland gives US citizens 3 months on arrival so it went very quickly. I only had a carry-on so I made my way to the exit. You have several choices on transport to Reykjavik. Flybus is very big in Iceland but I chose Grayline Tours as I had a good experience with them in NYC. Same price for both companies. About $32 USD round trip. I paid cash so I could get some kroner back. On the bus and less than an hour later we were in Reykjavik. It was dark, cold, light rain falling. They let you off right next to their tour office, but it was closed until 8am. I found a bakery close by and had hot tea and a bun. At 8am I walked to the tour office to ask them about tours. I was the first one into the office and glad to get out of the rain. I had the girl look up the weather for the next several days and she confirmed what I found out in Mass. The 12th and 13th were going to have better weather than the rest of the week. I was tired from the flight but booked the Golden Circle Tour that leaves at 9am. Pulled out my credit card, about $100 USD. They shuttle you from their tour office to the Grayline main bus HQ. I went inside to chat with the tour people. I decided to book the South Coast tour for the next day. The weather was going to get worse on the 14th, 15th, 16th so why wait?. Dinged my credit card another $120 and waited. Grayline is very professional and I would use them again. They call the Golden Circle tour and we troop over the bus and got on. The tour guide was fluent in both English & French and he went back and forth on what we would be seeing and doing. First stop was an overlook of the geothermal heating system that Iceland uses to heat their homes and businesses. Iceland has 5 geothermal plants that produce 26% of their electrical power and 87% of their hot water & heating needs. Because of the abundance of geothermal and hydroelectric power, Iceland is one of the greenest countries on the planet. Next up was the Pingvellir National Park. This is where the North American & European tectonic plates meet. Whenever you have tectonic plates grinding against each other, you have earthquakes and volcanoes. This why Iceland is the land of fire and ice. Far enough North for glaciers, it also has volcanoes because of the fault line running thru the country. Pingvellir NP is also where the Alpingi Assembly met in historic times to dispense justice. It was cold and windy when we were there and everyone headed for the bus as soon as possible. I forgot to bring my ski cap and sure needed it at Pingvellir NP. Next up was the Gullfoss Waterfall. Gullfoss is a very impressive sight and all of us walked the trail for better camera angles. You can get close enough that the spray from the waterfall can get you seriously wet. On a cold, windy day, that is not a smart move. After everyone trooped back to the bus, we drove to the Gullfoss Cafe and gift shop for warmth and food.
After lunch we stopped at the 'Great Geysir' area. This geysir is where all geysers got their name. The Stokkur Geysir is like Old Faithful in Yellowstone NP. It goes off every regularly, usually between 4 to 8 minutes. We were there long enough for several rounds of eruptions. After we all had enough of geyser action we headed back to Reykjavik.
Our tour stops at a church and we all pile out. The weather is not too bad for Iceland, but getting inside the church is still a good move. I get some photos and back on the bus.
Our last stop is at the Icelandic Fakasel Horse Park so we can see the Icelandic ponies. This was a hit with everyone. The ponies have numerous tour groups stop every day so they have become conditioned to visitors touching them plus they seem to pose for photos as well. I heard several of my tour group talking about coming back so they could ride the ponies the next day. We all got our photos and it was time to head for Reykjavik.
It was dark by the time we hit the Grayline HQ and transferred to vans. Grayline will take you to your hotel. I told them I was close to the Viking Hotel out in Hafnarfjorour. Of course I was last to be dropped off but got lucky as our guide was driving the van. I showed him the address to the airbnb room and he used his GPS to drive right to it. I tip him a 1000kr note then followed the instructions on how to get into the room. It was cold and raining and I could not get the lockbox open for the door key. I banged and the door and one of the other guests opened the door and showed me to my room. He also showed me how to use the box and get the key. You are instructed to open the door, put the key back in the box. Several others are using the same key. My room was small, but had a bed, TV, small kitchen. There were enough pots & pans for my oatmeal, eggs, toast, so I was OK with it. Small fridge for milk, yogurt, jam. I was going to have most of my meals in the room so needed to find out how everything worked. The other guy told me how to get to the nearest store. It was about 7pm but needed to shop before I could have dinner. Put on hat and coat and walked to the Kronan store in a light rain. 10 minutes of walking in the cold & rain, I was shopping for my PB&J, eggs, oatmeal, bread, milk, bananas, apples, hot chocolate and headed back. I fired up the hot plate, toaster and had hot chocolate, toast & oatmeal. I add a banana and half an apple to the bowl of oatmeal. I get a lot of bulk and nutrition for not many calories. I have oatmeal almost every morning at home so try to do the same when on the road. Had a shower, read until tired and turned off the lights. It had been a very long day and I was ready for some sleep. I don't sleep very well at home, so I did not expect to get a very good night's sleep on a small, fold-out bed. Up early the next morning, I did my stretching, sit-ups before fixing oatmeal & toast. I walked down to the Viking Hotel as that was where Grayline would pick me up for the South Coast Tour. The van took me back to the Grayline HQ, I checked in and had enough time for some tea and bun at the bakery next to their office. At 9:30am, we all board the bus for the South Coast Tour. As we got out of Reykjavik, the weather got better. Not exactly blue skies like Las Vegas, but at least not raining as much. We are passing dramatic scenery as we headed for the first waterfall. The driver did not stop, but I hoped that we would have other chances for scenic vistas. We all pile out at Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. and walk towards the waterfall. Our driver tells us we have an hour to explore the area. Seljalandsfoss is famous for having a path that allows you to walk behind the waterfall. I decide not to walk behind the falls because I did not want to get wet or jeopardize my camera by the spray. I talked to others after they had gone behind the falls and they said they did not get that wet. Oh well, too late to do it now. I did walk down past the falls and got some shots of smaller waterfalls plus was rewarded with a beautiful rainbow. After we all got back to the bus, we headed for our next stop.
After we all were back on the bus, we head for the volcanic beach at Reynisfjara and the village of Vik. There is a small store and restaurant at Vik and this is our lunch stop. After walking to the black sand beach and getting all the photos I wanted, I decide to sit outside and have my sandwich & fruit. After everyone has finished lunch, our guide takes us to the Gardar section of the black sand beach. This part of Iceland has many volcanoes and over the millennia, the lava has cooled into columnar jointing. Devil's Postpile in Calif. is another place to view columnar jointing. Gardar is a unique display that is certainly worth the walk. Every South Coast tour stops here and there are hundreds of people walking the beach and climbing the columns.
After the Gardar columns, our guide decides to take us up a steep dirt road to an overlook. He told us they don't do it when the path is too muddy or slippery. We were lucky the weather had improved as the day progressed. By now it was partly sunny, not bad for Iceland. There are great views from the top of this cliff and we all walk along the edge getting our photos. After everyone is on the bus, we head back down the steep road.
Next up is another waterfall. This is Skogafoss, 196ft (60m) tall and 80ft (25m) wide. A tremendous amount of water is flowing over the fall giving off a constant spray and there is a good chance of another rainbow. There is a path leads to the top of Skogafoss and I see plenty of people heading for the top. I am told there are 527 steps to the platform and quickly decide to pass on this option. After our allotted time, we all get back on the bus for our ride back. The weather was decent for Iceland and it turned out to be an enjoyable day. I was glad I listened to the Grayline personnel at the tour desk. Our driver does stop for scenic views of the Eyjafjallajokull & Hakla Volcanoes as we head for Reykjavik.
Once back at the Grayline HQ in Reykjavik, I again transfer to the smaller van to the Viking Hotel. There is a Subway shop close to the Viking so I bought a veggie delight and walked to my room. Not much to do in a small room but do my stretching, sit-ups, some TV, read, shower and time for bed. I had no plans for the next few day so took my time in the morning. About 10am I poked my head out the door and saw that it was raining, cool, windy. I packed my day bag and headed for the bus stop. In Hafnarfjorour the bus stops at a mall so I went inside to check prices on food and ski hats. As expected, pricey. Kronan's has better selection and prices. I caught the #2 bus, 420 kroner. You have to have exact change as the driver won't make any change. Almost all locals have fare cards, student cards something because I was the only one that put cash in the hopper. I got off at the bus terminal in Rey. and walked to Laugavegur St. their main shopping street. Part of it has traffic and part is pedestrian only. I found the Red Cross store and asked about hats, gloves. I had both in my van but they did not get into my carry-on. They had some decent gloves and they lady agreed to 1,000 kr, about $8. No caps worth buying. I went into Lundinn Souvenir Store and found a cap with Iceland on it for about $15. Nice reminder of being in Iceland and will keep my head warm as I walk the streets of Reykjavik. It was not great weather, cool light rain. I walked up the Hallgrimskirkja Church. The tallest building around and has a statue of Leif Erickson out front. According to the plague, he was the first to land on the North American Continent. It certainly was not Columbus as he hit several of the islands in the Caribbean but never made landfall on the Continent. I went inside to get out of the rain and warm up. I took some photos and headed back to Laugavegur St. I decided it was not worth walking around downtown Reykjavik anymore and headed for the bus. Another 420kr, 30 minute ride and I was back at the shopping center that is the end of bus #2 route. I walked back to my room, hot shower and changed into my room clothes. Hot chocolate and my PB&J for lunch. The next day was the 15th and raining even harder than the day before. I walked out to into the street to see if there was any break in the clouds/rain off in the distance. No such luck so decided to spend the day inside. Got my sit-ups and stretching done, oatmeal, toast, tea then killed the day with TV, reading, bringing my daily journal up to date. The guys down the hall came home from work around 5pm. They are from Bulgaria and are renting by the month. According to them, finding an affordable place to live is not easy in Reykjavik. And many other cities around the world as well. Next day was cool and raining again. I was out of bananas, apples & bread so I bundled up and walked to Kronan's. It was going to be my only exercise that day so took the long way there, about 30 minute walk each way. Oatmeal, toast for BF, hot chocolate with PB&J during the day, eggs, toast & tea for dinner. The next day was less rain so I took the bus to downtown and walked for several hours. I got better photos of the graffiti that seems to be everywhere. I asked several shop girls and they said most consider it art so it is not removed. Graffiti that is deemed obscene or racist is removed. I walked to the waterfront and got photos of the sculpture that is in the harbor and over to Harpa, the Convention and Performing Arts Center. They have a tour of the building and decided to take it.
When I was tired of walking, I headed to the bus station, got the #2 bus back to Hafnarfjorour. Home, shower, tea, read, TV, dinner and bed at 10pm. The next day I walked back to Kronan's as I did not have enough eggs, jam, hot chocolate, to make it to the last day. Home, lunch and then decided to walk over to the Viking Hotel and book another tour. I chatted with the front desk girl and decided on the Iceland From Below Tour, $100. This is a tour of a Lava Cave. There are other options but some of them are stupid expensive. $240 to walk on a glacier, $250 to go into an ice cave. I paid at the Viking Hotel with my credit card and was told when they would pick me up across the street. I wanted to soak in a hot tub, but the one at the Viking was for guests only and the ones within walking distance were really just swimming pools heated by steam. I read my book and chatted with some Brit guests that sat down at the table I was using. Walked back to my room in the rain and killed the rest of the day. Same routine in the morning, then I walked to the Viking Hotel to wait for the Grayline bus to pick me up for the Lava Cave Tour. The weather was better so I got some photos of the hotel before the bus arrived.
It was not that far to the Lava Cave, maybe 30 minutes. They provide overall, hard hats with a light, gloves. We all get suited up and walk to the entrance to the cave. It was not an easy path into the cave and it only got worse. The ceiling was a bit over 5 ft, (1.5m) so everyone one taller than that had to bend over to avoid banging your head on the lava ceiling. A couple of the guys were taller than I am, but they were much younger. They could duck down enough and still make good progress. I quickly was the last one, trying to keep up with the group. I banged my head numerous times and then stumbled on the broken lava rock floor. I banged my right shin on a rock and got a pretty good jolt of pain. At this point, a Chinese couple asked me if I was OK. I told them "NO", I am having a tough time walking while crouched over on a broken rock floor.The man took my lead hand and the lady my other hand and tried to help me stay with the group. At one point in the cave, the ceiling comes down so low that you have to crawl thru about a 3 ft (1m) high opening. I realized I just could not keep holding up the group and decided to stay right there. I did not want to crawl thru that opening then back again. I asked the man to find out how much further the cave continued. It was only about another 50 meters to the end so I told the couple to join the group and I would wait for them to return. It was only about 10 minutes before the tour guide came to me to find out if I was OK. There is another branch to the cave and she asked the group who wanted to take it. I wanted out but everyone else wanted more cave experience. She got me to where I could see daylight and told her I could make it back to the van from here. She gave me the key and said they would be about 20 minutes behind me. I took my time and got out of the cave w/o any further damage. Once out of the cave I could see the blood stain on the coveralls. Once back at the van, I could see that my pants and sock were soaked in blood. I waited for the group to return and then showed our guide my injury. She got out the first aid kit, cleaned the wound and put a bandage on it. I have never felt so old and clumsy as trying to negotiate that lava cave. Your brain and heart say "go, you can still do it", but in reality, you can't. There is one stop on the way back for a fish drying rack. Until just last year, fishing was Iceland's most important industry. Now it is tourism. I doubt fishing will ever overtake tourism as the most important source of revenue again.
It was only another 30 minutes after the drying racks that the bus dropped me off at the Viking Hotel. I limped back to my room and looked at my leg wound. My plan was to go to the Blue Lagoon on my last full day, but there was no way I was going to get into a public bathing pool with my would. I ended up just staying in my room and tending to my injury. The day of my flight arrived and I cleaned the room, put my sheets, towels in the box for soiled items. One last check to see if I had everything and I walked to the Subway shop. I bought a veggie delite and over to the bus stop. One last time I took the #2 bus to downtown Reykjavik. It lets you off very close to the Grayline tour office. I show them my return ticket and the shuttle me to the Grayline Bus HQ. After a short wait we all board for the trip to the airport. I am wearing all my heavy gear and hope I am under the 5 kilo carry-on limit. I check in and the WOW lady does not even bother to weigh my carry-on. Great, don't have to deal with that issue. I ate half of my Subway waiting for my flight to be called. We all board according to our row number and off we go for Boston. An eventful flight and I retrace my steps to get back to the train to Leominster. I fire up my mobile phone and tell Steve I am on the train heading his way. Steve was waiting for me when I got in and back to his house. I met his wife Katie and we chat for a few hours. I had a quick meal in North Station waiting for my train. I played with Holly and it was time for a shower and bed.

Posted by vegasmike6 12:35 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

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