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Beer continued…
Oct 7th, 2009 by Jeff

So far China has greatly underwhelmed me on the beer front.  Not that the beer has been bad, just nothing to write home (or on a blog) about.  Often it has been served somewhat warm and I have yet to find anything remarkable.  Most of the Chinese brews are of the “Budwiser” variety.  One beer did bring me back to the Bahamas, the Tsingtao Crystal - it tasted remarkably like a Kalik (Kate even agreed with me on that).  Derek – you’d feel right at home (accept you’d probably be the only caucasion guy with a Bahamian accent in the country).

But I haven’t given up on China yet.  I’m going to keep trying new Chinese beer at every opportunity – probably with some delicious and greatly underpriced food (our typical entrees are running a whopping $4- 5 US for a healthy portion).

Cheers,

Jeff

Takayama
Sep 12th, 2009 by Kate

We left Nagoya in the early afternoon on a train bound for the small city of Takayama in the Japanese Alps.  My plan was to take some motion sickness medicine and sleep for the two hour train ride as I had been warned it was very curvy.  But just as I was settling in the train conductor got on the intercom and said “blah blah blah blah (but in Japanese) famous river”.  I looked out to a scene worth of the Canadian Rockies – our train was on a narrow ledge high above a deep mountain canyon with a crystal clear river, beautiful rock formations and lush green forest.  We went from a dense urban jungle to a deep green lush pine forest in less than 15 minutes!

 The rest of the train ride was just as beautiful as the first moment I looked out the window.  When we weren’t on the canyon edges, we were closer to the valley floor which afforded me great views of rural backyard gardens – which were even better than the city backyard gardens.  Most of the veggies and fruits I recognize – eggplant, tomato, beans, cucumbers, onion, garlic, leek, green onion, a few beets here and there, potatoes, squash, apples, pears and Asian pears.  There are a few really funky looking cucumbers (I think they are cucumbers) that are covered with spikes and a fruit with spikes that smells really really bad but apparently tastes really really good (I will try it a soon as I can and report back).  And there is a TON of rice.  The rice fields are everywhere.  All of these gardens make me yearn for my little plot of land!

 The Takayama train station was a piece-of-cake and we found our hostel (J-Hoppers) easily.  The city was a little bigger than I thought it would be, but our hostel, the old town, the morning markets and the local craftsman’s shops were all in a concentrated area that we rarely needed to leave, so it ended up feeling like a small town to us. 

 

Market treat - frozen Mandrain Orange on-a-stick

Market treat - frozen Mandrain Orange on-a-stick

We rented bikes on our first full day and hit the morning market that runs along the river.  There were about 30 stalls of fruits & veggies, local crafts, flowers, and lots of pickled veggies on the side of the street that ran along the river, and small stores selling baked goods, dry goods, miso, sake (there are 9 sake breweries in Takayama) and more local crafts on the other side of the street.  We sampled everything we could, bought a bunch of it, and feasted on our market goodies the rest of the day.  Our favorite market treats were the fresh grilled sake marshmallows (see photo of recipe if you want to make at home – and good luck with that!), little glass bottles of very rich fresh whole milk (it may have been more towards the half & half side of the milk-fat content – but we don’t know for sure cause we couldn’t read a thing – oh so good), and these little rice sugar cookies that we are hording in case we can’t find again.  The fresh veggies weren’t too shabby either.

 

Marshmallow stand

Marshmallow stand

Marchmallow Recipe... Natascha - please have this perfected for us when we get home!

Marchmallow Recipe... Natascha - please have this perfected for us when we get home!

On our second day in Takayama we went on a fieldtrip with one of the guys that worked at our hostel.  He brought us to a roadside waterfall that was pretty darn amazing, and then a bit further brought us to this massive volcanic mountain that we hiked on for a few hours.  Our final destination was a series of waterfalls with giant pools that we could swim in.  Oh… but the water was so darn cold.  I mean like glacier cold.  I never saw the glacier, but that water was so freezing I am sure there was one up there.  It just didn’t seem right though not to go in since we had worked so hard to get there, so eventually (with lots of squealing and yelping) we all managed to brave a short dip.  Our guide had goggle with him, and Tess and I swam over to the bottom of the waterfall and looked under – it was really a sight to see.  Almost worth the hypothermia that you started to feel after about 60 seconds in the water.  As we started to swim away from the waterfall we both got sucked back towards the falls by some current, and that, mixed with our muscles getting freaky from the cold made me a little bit scared.  But we made it. 

Takayama hike

Takayama hike

 

Hypothermia Falls with J-Hopper Takayama friens Ryo, Kenji, Monica & Ben

Hypothermia Falls with J-Hopper Takayama friends Ryo, Kenji, Monica & Ben

We warmed ourselves on the rocks, ate the bento boxes we brought with us, and then took the short way back to the trail head (oh sure, make us walk up the hard part and back the easy way!).  We were rewarded with our first to an onsen – a traditional Japanese bath house.  This one was extra special because it is famous for its natural hot spring that is filled with minerals.  I’m going to have one of the girls write about their first visit to an onsen, but I will say that we really enjoyed it, and now just a week later, with more onsen visits under our belts, we are onsen pros.

 On our last full day in Takayama, we went back to the markets, fed koi and were attacked by pigeons (see Tessa’s post), window shopped a bunch more, learned about the local wood carving crafts, and then rode up a giant hill (okay, pushed our bikes up a giant hill) to visit the Hida Folk Village Living Museum.  Here there were 25 authentic rural homes; some dating back to the 1700’s, that had been relocated here from other parts of Japan.  Each house had an interesting background, a unique architectural style that was specific to an area based on the area’s climate, and inside each had a display that taught about some aspect of rural Japanese life over the past 300 years.  Just ask Phoebe about silk worms and spinning silk – she will tell you everything you ever wanted to know.  The Village was really neat, we all really enjoyed it, and we are for sure counting it towards “homeschooling”. 

 

Hida Folk Village

Hida Folk Village

Takayama has definitely been my favorite part of Japan so far.

Narita, Japan
Sep 5th, 2009 by Kate
Narita Temple (find Phoebe & Tessa!)

Narita Temple (find Phoebe & Tessa!)

The flight over the pond was great, eleven hours in first class on American Airlines was a bit of heaven (there is something about hot fudge sundaes at 40,000 feet that can’t be beat!).  A quick shout out to Pappy Wells for 35+ years at AA that affords us standby tickets – thank you SO much, it was a great way to start out our overseas adventure!

We are 16 hours ahead of Arizona time (Tess keeps track so she can chat with her buddies when they get home from school) and the jetlag wasn’t bad except that for the first three days we were up-and-at-em at 2am Japan time!!!  We spent two nights and a day in Narita getting ourselves organized and managed to find a neat park with a huge Temple, a mall, and the best Ramen we have ever had in our lives.

I say “managed” because in spite of the best efforts of our bus driver and a few nice Japanese people who tried their hardest to get us going in the right direction, we still managed to get ourselves lost on the way to the Temple and on the way back.  Yes, we indeed had a detailed map (not to mention that the Temple was on a huge hill in the middle of town right in front of us) but we ended up missing the beautiful meandering entrance and instead hiked straight up the back side of the hill and through the service entrance (never really thought about a Temple having a service entrance, but they do).  Of course we ended up in the same place as everyone else, just took a really different path.  I’m sure there is some wise Buddhist saying about “taking the other path”, but since we don’t know it, we’re using the whole hike as fodder for endlessly teasing our navigator Jeff.

We got equally lost on our way back to the bus, but the happy ending to that was that we stumbled upon a delicious smelling little ramen restaurant.  Who ever knew that ramen could be so tasty!  There were 10 seats in the place, six at a counter and a table for four.  It was a tiny and dark little place,  but had cool modern hanging lights and a young, smiling cook. We sat down and had no idea how or what to order (we didn’t even know it was a ramen place at first) so looked up in our phase book “please make us something good to eat” and he whipped up 4 steaming bowls of noodle with pork and mushrooms.  When the bowls first arrived the noodles were al dente, and continued cooking in the broth that was salty and creamy and earth and delicious.  Big YUM.

Seattle really IS as cool as it thinks it is…
Sep 1st, 2009 by Kate

I didn’t want to love Seattle, but I did.  Granted, it was sunny both days that we were there, but I think I would have even liked it in the rain.  It’s urban.  It’s hip.  There are cool old-ish buildings and a pretty darn nice art museum (Bill Gates is putting your Microsoft money to good use – remember that next time you are cursing Vista). 

We found pizza that rivals Biancos – no really.  It’s called “Serious Pie.” and we only had to wait an hour and a half.  Chanterelles with truffled cheese, clams with lemon tyme, and yukon gold potato with house pecorino & rosemary.  Totally divine in a totally divine kind-of-way.

One disappointment was Pikes Peak Market.  It was a total tourist trap.  After being at the great Granville Island Market in Vancouver, I had very high expectations for Pikes Peak – after all, they throw fish and they have a book written about it – but alas, it was pretty lame.  We did see the guys throwing the fish (vaguely entertaining) and did manage to score tastey grilled salmon sandwiches – but for the most part it was like Main Street at Disney but with food instead of souveniers (although there was plenty of Pike’s Peak kitch to be had for the asking).  There were a few booths outside of the official market that had great local produce, and we also happened upon a nice neighborhood farmer’s market so Seattle redeemed itself :-)

One really funny thing that did happen to us was we got caught up in this cycling-thing called “Free Form”.  Apparently this happens in cities around the world but we’d never heard of it… about 200 people on bikes showed up at this downtown park that we just happened to be sitting in (I swear Marion – you are right, we do attract craziness) and after about 20 minutes they all started riding around in a giant circle in one direction.  It was like being in a bicycle tornado.  Everyone was ringing their bells and riding faster and faster until they all started spilling out of the park and onto the (very busy Friday afternoon rush hour) street and then all of them followed eachother in one direction up the busiest of the streets blocking car traffic in EVERY direction.  And then they were gone – riding up the streets beyond where we could see.  Apparently this happens every last Friday of the month, and they ride around for like 20 miles during rush hour to bring attention to… riding your bike.!   It was a sight.  We all thought of Jeff Cline.  His bike would have been the coolest.

Anyway, thanks to cousin Kevin for letting us crash on his empty apartment floor, thanks to the nice girl at the bus stop that sent us to Serious Pie, and Phoebe would like me to add that the little old Italian guy selling fruit across the street from the Monorail station has the BEST nectarines in the universe.

Canada wrap-up
Aug 31st, 2009 by Kate
Phoebe the "rock" star!

Phoebe the "rock" star!

 

Tessa with most important rock climbing gear - leg warmers...

Tessa with most important rock climbing gear - leg warmers...

 Not to be outdone by Jeff, Tess and Phoebe went rock climbing a few days ago.  They scrambled up the rock face like it was nobody’s business.  Rock climbing out on a real mountain is a far distant cousin of climbing in a gym, and for some reason makes the “mother of the little mountain goats” a bit more nervous.  Alas, they were in safe hands and had a blast. 

 And since we needed yet another jolt of adrenaline, last night we went with our couchsurfing hosts Kyle and Robin to a game called Manhunt.  For those of you who live in Phoenix – I am SO setting up a game like this when I get back so watch for details next year.  Basically, it is a giant game of tag with people you don’t really know in some kind of urban setting.  IT IS SO MUCH FUN!

 The organizers post the met-up date/time/location on a group they’ve made in Facebook, and tons of people just show up.  Last night the game was held on the campus of a school plus all the neighborhood surrounding the school and there were about 40 people.  Sometimes it’s in a park, sometimes a forest preserve, but most often in urban areas including downtown Victoria.  Everyone checks in at the appointed time, gets a yellow armband to wear, finds out what the boundaries are, and then everyone rock/paper/scissors to determine who is it.  As you get tagged, you become “it” too, so by the end of the game most people are “it” and are hunting for those that aren’t.  Mind you, you can’t tell who has been tagged and who hasn’t.  For me, it was mostly running, hiding, and laughing – but as beginners luck would have it – I won the first game! 

We all had a total blast and it was a great way get some exercise and to meet a bunch of really cool people in BC.  If you Manhunters are reading this – thanks for an awesome time and for letting us crash your game!

So we’ve moved on from Canada now – passports and all (oh that is a non-online story) and we’ll be in the US for a few days before leaving the comforts of North America.  We had an absolute blast in Canada – it is  a beautiful place with lots of great things to do, but I think the biggest impression that was left with me was how wonderful the Canadian people are.  Thanks in large part to couchsurfing.org, we have great new friends that I am sure we will stay in contact with forever – and we fully expect you all to come and visit us in AZ during one of your winters!  Shout outs to Nathan & Mel in Calgary, Jodi & Nick in Canmore, Chad in Revelstoke, Andrea, Liesje & kiddos in Vancouver, Kyle & Robin on blackberry hill in Sooke, Diane & Nick in Duncan, Anne & Kellea in Parkville and Kyle & Robin (again!).

Some travel highlights we recommend:

  • Fiasco Gelatto in Calgary
  • Bamff Hot Springs Hotel (we’re going to come back here and stay someday when we’re rich, and/or for Phoebe’s wedding)
  • Revelstoke – we liked the whole town (and they have a great local brewery too)
  • The Hemlock Forest in Glacier National Park
  • Gort’s Gouda in Salmon Arms
  • The Columbia Icefields (the drive between Jasper & Bamff is amazing!)
  • The Granville Island Market in Vancouver (kicks Pike Peak’s market butt!)
  • Stanley Park in Vancouver (rent bikes and cruise the outer loop for the best view of the city and waterways)
  • The BC ferry between Vancouver & Vancouver Island
  • The Dutch Bakery on Fort St. in Victoria
  • Sombrio Beach between Sooke & Port Renfrew
  • The farmer’s market in Duncan (find the people selling the venison sausages)
  • The Parksville annual Sandcastle Contest (Jack Gape – we’re going to build a monster castle next year buddy – I have tips from the pros!)
  • Butchart Gardens in Victoria (that’s Butt-chart to Tessa)
Butchart Gardens

Butchart Gardens

Sambrio Beach, Vancouver Island

Sambrio Beach, Vancouver Island

Tessa, Phoebe and couchsurfing host kid Kellea on tree roots at Cathedral Grove

Tessa, Phoebe and couchsurfing host kid Kellea on tree roots at Cathedral Grove

Girls on fallen giant red cedar tree in Cathedral Grove

Girls on fallen giant red cedar tree in Cathedral Grove

Ahhh, the Canadian Rockies in the summer…
Aug 12th, 2009 by Kate

 

The Banff Hot Springs Hotel vista

The Banff Hot Springs Hotel vista

Banff Gondola ride

Banff Gondola ride

Sulpher Mountain hike - Banff

Sulpher Mountain hike - Banff

Top of Sulpher Mountain

Top of Sulpher Mountain

Really, you just have to see this place to believe it – it is so gorgeous.  Really really gorgeous.  REALLY.

 

We flew into Calgary last week to cold and rainy weather.  What a shock after the sunny humid days of the Bahamas and the dry intense heat of AZ.  It was about 50°F with constant light rain – and we looked like total fools with our 3 layers on.  We couchsurfed at a beautiful house in south Calgary – our host, Nathan, was actually out of town for the week, and in true couchsurfing fashion, he checked out our profile and decided we were worthy enough to actually let us stay at his house without him even being there!  The highlight of our Calgary stay was actually an adorable little gelato shop called “Fiasco” on 10th Ave and Kenzington.  The owner and staff were great fun, and their flavors were unlike any we had ever tried… my recommendation… Avocado Lime, Phoebe’s favorite… Salted Carmel (ala Auntie Tasch), Tessa’s fav… Honey Pear, and Jeff’s was the Chai Tea gelato… YUM!

 

From Calgary we headed an hour east through pretty rolling hills full of cow pastures and the Olympic ski jumps from the Calgary Olympics.  Have you ever seen those ski jumps in person?  They look scary enough when you see them on TV, but in person (or should I say speeding by them on the highway) they look TOTALLY INSANE!  Tess even thought they looked scary!

 

On to Canmore and Banff, and couchsurfing with Jody & Nic.  Canmore & Banff are sort of the gateway to the Rockies.  We all commented on how the landscape went from little rolling hills to GIANT mountains in such a short distance.  And the Rockies are actually rocky – I guess I’d never really thought about why they call them the Rockies – but the tops of all of them are bald and rocky (duh Kate).  The pine forests are impossibly thick, and it is hard to imagine being the first people that thought settling in this area would be a good idea.

 

We enjoyed our time in Banff (although its pretty touristy) – spending time checking out the Banff Hot Spring Hotel (Phoebe has decided she would like to get married there – we’ll start saving up for that as soon as we pay this trip off) and riding the gondola up to the top of Sulphur Mountain (and hiking down the entire 5.8kms – Tess will blog about that adventure).  We were disappointed to see that the hot springs had been turned into a big boring swimming pool and think that we should call our hot tub back home a “hot spring” and charge $8 a person so sit in it.

 

The next day we headed over to the infamous Lake Louise, and then over to Yoho National Park to visit the third largest waterfall in Canada, Tawkaka Falls.  We turned off the main highway to take the mountain road up to the falls, and no sooner had Jeff said “now girls, keep your eyes peeled, this is the kind of road that we’re likely to see animals on” then a big black bear lumbered onto the road in front of us.  IT WAS SO CUTE!  It is such a bummer that bears are so terribly dangerous because they are totally adorable and I could have one in our backyard next to the chickens.  I was so excited that I didn’t get the camera out fast enough to catch it – but we are very happy to add it to our critter count.

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