Santa Maria – Day 2

by Jenn

Today was mostly spent Kayaking.  We took a tour with Central Coast Kayaks’ John through some awesome caves in Pismo.  Here are some of the photos Jeff and I took.  We also got a DVD of pictures that John took – an awesome included goody for the reasonable price of $70 for 4 hours of fun!

After that we had lunch at Garland’s Hamburgers.  The food was ALL delicious!  I had the best milkshake ever.  Peanut Butter Chocolate.  YUM

We then went too the “Roll out the Barrels” event at Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards where we drank drank drank and ate some goodies while listening to relaxing regge music.  I also got a much needed massage with Dixie from A Vital Touch.

An all around good day.  Rest and relaxation time before dinner and bed.  Ciao!

Santa Maria – Day 1

by Jenn

Jeff and I decided to take the day off today (and me the weekend) so that we could have another mini-moon.  I told Jeff that I would plan everything to surprise him this time and while it was a LOT of fun planning, I realized in the process that I totally need my partner in crime to keep me in check so that I don’t forget things… like aloe lotion.  (Easy 99 cent fix, but still – it’s good to know I need him =P)

Anyway, today was full of surprises starting with a 5:30am wake-up call.  I kept telling him we were flying to Peru and as we headed to the airport at 6am, he was getting more and more confused.  It was great!  Alas, we were only there to rent a car – a very bad-ass Volkswagen EOS convertible.  I love that it is the EOS, just like our Canon gear,  WOO!  Anyway, with surprise #1 revealed, we had to head back home to load up.  Our next stop was the Santa Barbara Courthouse – but that was all business – I have a wedding next week and wanted to scope it out.  Jeff suggested we get a bit to eat on the Pier at Moby Dick’s Cafe and since we had no other plans, I agreed and it was wonderful.

An hour or so later we got to our hotel in Santa Maria but just checked in, jumped back into the car, and drove to Pismo Beach for a lunch picnic in the sand.  Sadly no picture because it was sooooo windy and sandy and someone (*cough* me *cough*) forgot the waterproof camera in the hotel – since my side kick had no clue where we were going he didn’t do the usual supply checklist for me.

We still had fun, did some reading, then some shopping, and headed to the visitor’s center to find out what we could do before our appointment at Avila Mineral Springs Resort.  We checked out two wineries (1 winery, 1 restaurant/tasting room actually), and enjoyed the Peacocks at Kelsey See Canyon while sipping some AMAZING port wine.

Back in town we found some other great dessert wines that we just had to have.

We ended the night with a picnic dinner in our private hot tub gazebo at the Resort and oh how relaxing it was.  With a beautiful view of the sunset through the trees I would recommend this to anyone who is ever near Pismo, San Luis, etc.

Here are the photos of today:

Napa Day 1

by Jenn

I messed up – didn’t bring the CF card reader to Napa from San Jose.  So no pictures till Sunday.

I’ll just give a brief snipet of what we did today.

Ate breakfast with Mom, Dad, Sarah and George.  Yummy pancakes that I made.  Then we drove to Fairfield where we are staying and where the Budweiser Factory is.  So… we had to go there for the free tour and tasting.  Two glasses of free beer each – rock on!  Of course it got us to spend $13 on a 12-pack but it was still worth it.

Then we went an hour north to Berringer Winery in St. Helena.  We took their 60-minute tour, complete with cave tour, 4 wine tastings (one out of the barrel!) and pairings with cheese and chocolate.

After the tour we shared a brief snack.  The afternoon was cool and breezy.  It was nice being the only ones around, relaxing and taking photos.

We met up with family (all here for cousin Rob’s wedding) and ate dinner at Azurra Pizza in Napa.  Very good – but reminder to self – skip the arugula.

Now we are back in Fairfield at the Marriott (of course!) watching some TV.

Will post pix asap!

Asia Day 10 – Living the Day Twice

by Jenn

So today (Thursday June 30th), at exactly the time it is now (4:45pm), but 16 hours ago – we were in Tokyo boarding a plane for the US.  How odd it is to live the same day twice.  Does that mean we did some time travel?  I think so!

Day started out getting last souveniers for friends and family.  Then back to Marriott where we finished watching Tangled and hung out till about 11:40am.  We then spent the next 40 minutes at the check out counter trying to use our honeymoon gift card to pay our 72,000 YEN bill ($940 USD).  After several tries, managers checking that the balance was indeed high enough, and length phone calls – he told us again that it would not work.  So who knows what’s going to happen with that but I ain’t forkin over the cash, that’s for sure.  Just another reason to loath Tokyo in my opinion.

It wasn’t all bad – surely we did have a good time there but it just hadn’t been as easy and friendly as Hong Kong and this was just one more thing.  Pair that with the fact that Air Canada bumped us a few months back off our flight (no biggie… except… it was to another AIRPORT!) – and then when we get to the airport we were bumped yet again.  However, they put us on a direct flight which was nice, though none of the AC perks I SO LOVED on the way to HK.

But alas, we got on the plane, and got into LAX as scheduled for the new flight (yet 7.5 hrs. ahead of our original plan and with not means to get home).  Following that was a 3 hour wait for passport check immigration and customs – then sitting on a curb, deciding to spend $50 on a shuttle, and being the last (furthest) to be dropped of over an hour later.  We still saved ourselves tons of time and exhaustion and discomfort.  Jeff ordered pizza, we got our mail, we layed down and now I am blogging all before my plane even took off from Tokyo (ok kinda) – but seriously before we were supposed to even arrive.  So, all is well and I am looking forward to TV catch up and rest.  Great trip, though exhausting.

No pix today – Boo on us – but I hope to post nice edited ones tomorrow now that I am home with Lightroom.

Asia Day 9 – Missing Disney

by Jenn

And what really sucks is that I have no Annual Pass right now which means no Disney for me till our November trip to Florida.  Tough life right?

Woke up later this morning which was nice – had breakfast at St. Marcs – chocolate gooey croissant, yum.  Our day at parks could not have been hotter.  (Well maybe it could have been, but it sure was blazing).  I’ve gotta say I love that people here use umbrellas for shade.  It really helps me not feel like I’m on a spit getting charred.

Before the parks we went to the Fish Market – one of the largest in the world and you can tell by the smell.  I, of course, was wearing illegal flip flops so I got to experience the slime first hand – er – foot.  Yay!

After that was the Detached House Garden a short walk away.  I really liked it there – warm but plenty of shade and places to sit.  I imagine it would be beautiful in spring with blo0ming flowers in their two large gardens, but it was still lush and pretty.  We went up some cobblestone steps to the top of a hill for a look at the lake and tea house in the middle.  Tea wasn’t open yet, that would have been fun.  Next time.

Our third stop was at the Imperial Palace grounds.  Lots of it is off limits as it is the emperor’s home, but the surrounding areas give you a good look at his place and even the gates into the “off limits” areas are something to see. 

Thank goodness for the little building half way through serving ice cream and an air conditioned bench.  I thought I was going to crash getting hungry for lunch with my old achey back.  Sugar is wonderful and they could totally make a killing on those ice cream bars but they were excellently priced.

We trapsed through the East Gardens after that and out the grounds at the Northern end.  We decided to come back toward the hotel for lunch at Denny’s.  Way different than Denny’s in the states.  And my dessert of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, fudge, brownies, coco puffs cereal, chocolate shavings, banana, and whipped cream was amazing (sans banana – Jeff ate that).

Back at the hotel after a refreshing shower and figuring out what to do next.  Will post again if anything exciting happens.

Scratch that — never posted before we went back out.  Went to see the red bridge that I needed to see – yay.  Walked the grounds of the Koishikawa Korakuen Garden for about 30 minutes before coming back home.  Just have to decide on McDonald’s or Lion’s Beer for dinner now.  All packed for tomorrow: just need to get some souveniers in the morning, then hop on our $70 Limousine BUS to the airport.  Looking forward to endless movies in English.

Pictures from today:

Asia Day 8 – Disney Sea Rocks!

by Jenn

So I almost said no to going to a second Disney park in Tokyo — but I’m sure glad Jeff talked me into it!  The park is huge, but managable and there is great attention to detail and theming of different areas.  Really I now think everyone should experience it for themselves.

The morning started with a 20 minute walk to the park after our express metro ride.  It was warm but not bad.  Due to power cut backs, a lot of AC is off so it did get stuffy in some queues, but the park was significantly less busy than yesterday at Disneyland and with fast passes and shorter lines, we got through everything we wanted to pretty easily.

Only hiccup was that we decided to go light and bring one camera and it failed on us part way through so I got fewer photos of genie stuff than I would have liked to.  But dig this – there is a carousel in the Arabian Coast area gives you a chance to ride on multi-colored genies!  Bummed I missed the photo op for my sis, Jeff decided her and I need to make a trip back sometimes (he says he’ll watch George =P ).

Right before the camera crash was the awesomest parade/water show/performance I have ever seen at Disney.  Ok I take that back, but it was awesome!  10 water floats and jet skis and on the back of jet skis at one point was a second guy flying 5 kites at once, omg!  I can’t even describe it except to say it was a whole array of color and show with dancing and characters and I bet a whooooole lotta money went into it!

Food was also up to my Disney food standards – lots of cury – YUM – including cury popcorn which I loved but Jeff hated.  These parks are all about the popcorn.  Yesterday we had soy sauce and butter flavor, today it was cury, then caramel, and then strawberry (twice, because it was that good).  Um, why hasn’t DL California caught onto this amazing pocorn idea.  I’m convinced that anything will taste good on popcorn now – and I usually say I don’t even like the stuff!

Jeff’s most favorite ride of the day was Journey to the Center of the Earth, which we rode twice.  Starts out as a slow ride through, though beautiful, then gets all crazy and speedy and roller coaster-y. =)  The first ride we went on, with a 360 degree loop, was lame for as scary as they made it sound, but I must say it was smooth.  This park just had a lot of cool different things.

My favorite attraction was probably the Ariel show.  With dialogue in Japanese and songs in English, we got most of it – but everyone flys around above you as if swimming while you watch from the ocean floor.  Ariel’s whole land is underground which was a cool escape from the heat and was so cutely done with colorful lighting and rides.

On our way home we finally got to experience a truly packed metro.  Twice I thought “hmm, this is pretty full” and I was apparently wrong because more crammed in.  Didn’t have to hold on, just had to be squished in the swaying mass for a stop or two.  It was pretty fun. =)

We went to the 100 Yen store after that (Japan’s version of the Dollar Tree) and bought a few goodies.  I think Dollar Tree is better but this store is 4 stories and is pretty nuts.

Tomorrow we have decided to stick around here and visit some parks including the Imperial Palace.

Here are the pictures we managed to get today:

Asia Day 7 – Room Service is Expensive!

by Jenn

…and 3 of the places we tried to eat before resorting to room service were closed…  That’s the price of rice I guess – quite literally.

So we just shared some steak teryakki over rice and Jeff has found some English James Bond.  Yay!  Today was full of not understanding a damn thing, so it’s nice to know what’s going on.

It is fun to hear Donald and Goofy and the whole gang speak Japanese though – oh but not as hillarious as hearing Lumierre say “bonjour” and then go on to speak Japanese with a french accent.  So great!  That was all part of Mickey’s PhilharMagic which was again great.

Before DL, we went to a Temple – kind of a touristy area – but neat to see.  Then we hopped on the metro to DL.

Tokyo Disneyland has far more attractions than Hong Kong and so far we have only tackled one of the two parks.  But it is in it’s 28th year, so I do believe Hong Kong has a bright future.  Hopefully HKDL keeps up the pin trading though because it sucked being at a park with ABSOLUTELY NONE today.  I guess they used to have it but stopped.  I’m not sure why.  But you can’t even buy many pins – they are only in two stores and the selection is small – mostly Easter ones.

Yeah, that’s right, Easter in June… in Japan…  SOOOOO much merchandise, parade, decor, etc… and all of it confused the heck out of us – but…. we played an Easter egg hunt which was FABULOUS – love those in park games Asia has got going on!  I guess they just wanted to really celebrate.

The egg hunt was the best part of it – going around finding “hidden” eggs painted and decorated as characters.  Highlights in the park include an upgraded Winnie the Pooh ride and a “Ride and Go Seek” Monster’s Inc. ride where you use a flashlight to spot monsters (very similar to buzz lightyear, which we didn’t ride).

Jeff also got his geek fix at Star Tours, though Space Mountain was closed.  Actually, a lot of rides shut down at certain times of the day to help save electricity.  Tonight we saw a sign that Tokyo is using 73% of it’s normal rate.  That neon glow of Tokyo streets is not the same, but it’s nice that everyone cares.

More Disney tomorrow and from what Jeff says, it will be more rides and lots of fun.

Here are photos from today:

P.S. – Just had a revelation: Jeff and I have now been to all 5 Disneyland parks!  Not together and not this year (at 4 of 5) but we both did WDW as kids – so awesome!

Asia Day 6 – Part 2 – In Japan…

by Jenn

So… Japan has not put me quite as at ease as Hong Kong did.  Our room is smaller and with fewer ammenities – no English TV, no wi-fi in room (though there is a cable connection) and there is not as much English, that’s for sure.  But we do have kimono-type Yukata’s to use and had a yummy dinner at Lion’s Beer Club followed by dessert from Godiva. YUM.

Our flight was fine – loved the seats as they seemed bigger, but my back is killing me (probably from my photo bags).  Besides the late arrival, the Haneda Airport experience was a breeze.  Easy passport check and customs with a short line, and a very friendly tourism counter representative who actually walked us to where we needed to go instead of just pointing.  We got on the Haneda express monorail to town which was indeed express and after a paris-like stair system coming out of the metro, it was just a short walk to our hotel.

Though it is not quite as lush as our last stay, I must say everyone here has been quite nice.  We went out again after our dinner just for some photos.  That was fun – totally looked like a crazy tourist but oh well.

Jeff is trying to fiddle with TV as our computer hookup isn’t working either – the best thing he’s found so far is Will Smith speaking Japanese.  It’ll be bedtime soon as we have an early morning and jam packed Disney day tomorrow.

Here are a few photos from this evening:

Asia Day 6 – Part 1 – The Airport

by Jeff McNeil
Sunrise in Hong Kong

Sunrise in Hong Kong

YAWN!  This was an early morning at 5:30am for a flight at 9:25am.  This airport is so large it has 2 train stations, 500+ gates and a required map to get you around.  When we got here we ran into a small problem, Cathay Pacific did not get the memo about my name change.  I called Air Canada and told them, since they were the primary carrier, and Air Canada told me not to worry about it.  Well it was a good thing that I had my marriage licence and old passport because it took us an additional 20 minutes to have the manager approve the name change.  Kinki, our airline agent, was polite and nice during the whole time.  She even waved the fee for my “oversized” wall fan that I was going to carry on board.  The next problem was that Jenn and I are not sitting together on this flight to Tokyo….. bummer.  We will see what we can do once we board the plane.  Finally we were singled out for an extensive baggage check.  The security guard delicately opened our camera bag and gently picked out one piece at a time.  If we were in the US I am sure it would have been torn into and stuff tossed all around.  The people here are so polite and nice.   Jenn and I were wondering what might have made them question the bag, we only had shot glasses, electronics, and a giant bag of Disney pins in there.  I guess it looked a little too touristy.

Jenn is now back with breakfast! YUM!  McD’s Mango & Orange smoothie and french style pastries.  Later!

Asia Day 5 – No I do not need a watch, copy handbag, suit or women’s tailor

by Jenn

…but thanks for asking 60 bagillion times!

It is absolutely hillarious to me what is peddled on the streets of Kowloon.  The afore mentioned items are only the beginning – then there are perhaps questionable massage offers.  And man they know how to play you – achey feet from all day walking and for $4 US you can have a 20 minute chinese foot massage!  Or so we think.  If it came with anything else, then I suppose it is totally a deal!

So, today was our last day in Hong Kong and boy was it packed.  Tried to see the Giant Buddah but we were too early, so we went to the south side of Hong Kong island on our Big Bus Tour and got a free Sampan ride through the fishing village.  That was SO neat!  I was hoping to see real back to basics culture here and that totally did it.

After that we went across the harbor to Kowloon and had lunch at Outback.  yeah yeah, its in the US and is not a truly cultural experience, but we had items we hadn’t seen before and man I do hope Alice’s chicken is on Huntington Outback’s menu because it was gooo-oood!  Being in the AC, drinking ice water, and watching people below on the streets was nice and relaxing.

We then hopped back on the bus and took a 30 minute journey to the Ladies’ Market area – jam packed streets with vendors and LOTS of haggling.  Though it is an unmastered art for me.

At 3 we headed back to TST East and from 4-8 we really had nothing to do so we just browsed shops, got 770ml bottles of cold water for 50 cents US, and had a blast.  Dinner at Pepper Lunch was an experience – would love to have that again!  You kind of cook your own meal.  They plate it on a HOT skillet and you mix everything up so it cooks.  AND it’s delicious.  Plus at only 39 HKD, ($5 US) splitting a huge portion to top that, it was a super deal.  LOVE Asia!

Saw Symphony of Lights shortly after that – a much better vantage point than the peak, and I got to take plenty of photos and some video. A 30 minute walk to Temple Street night market for a few more photos closed the night before out metro ride home.

All packed and ready for the 4.5 hour flight to Japan tomorrow.  Not sure yet if three days will be enough there.  So much to do – but I’m super excited for another Disney day.

Goodnight all (or shall I say good morning?)  Here are some pictures which will hopefully entertain you:

Asia Day 4 – Hong Kong Island

by Jenn

Went into the city today for some amazing sights.  The weather was better – well less wind meant it felt hotter, but the cyclone storm has passed.  We got on the “Big Bus Tour” for the day (tomorrow too) and went around one of the 4 paths 1.5 times.

First stop was Victoria Park – it is amazing how lush everything is here – like Hawaii.  Even though you can hear all the nearby cars, it is sort of a place of relaxation “away” from the city.  A lot of groups were practicing Tai Chi.

After that, we hopped back on the big bus to go through the computer center and to the Peak Tramway.  This thing was crazy!  First of all, the herds of people are astonishing, then you get on the thing and it takes you up a giant hill at a 45 degree angle.  (P.S. to truly appriciate how steep it is, you need to stand for the ride – which we did later.)

The views were great and we took an escalator to the highest point.  There is also about 6 or 7 floors of shops at the top.

After the peak, we took a journey to the mid-level escalators where we climed another, more subtle hill.  Stopping for gelatto in the middle was a nice refreshment and we took Hollywood street for a walk to Man Mo Temple while divulging.  This temple is awesome for lack of a better word.  It is known for its ceiling covered in spiralled incence.  Definitely a site to see.

From there we went back to the beginning at the Star Ferry Pier and to the IFC mall for a break in the AC.  Ate at McDonald’s, and also got dough balls and nutella at Pizza Express.  After powering back up it was time to go back to the peak for the spectacular night show.

And will our ticket to cut in line, it was well worth the extra $5 to go back up.  The photos will do a better job of describing the scene.

After that, it was just back to the metro, back to the end of the line, and a taxi to our Hotel.  Missed happy hour of course so we ordered some sweet and sour chicken.  Room service is super expensive here, but oh well!

TV time and bed… more tomorrow!


Asia Day 3 – HKDL!

by Jenn

Hong Kong Disneyland today was tons of fun!

We woke up at, oh, 3:30am… putzed around till the Exec lounge opened at 6, ate breakfast and started our travels to DL.  It took practically no time to get there which meant we were there an hour before opening, but we got to walk the resort and check out the hotel.  At 10am the park kind of opened – but only main street.

Little did we know virtually EVERY cast member would have pins.  (BTW, we totally didn’t bring enough to trade!)  We spent the next 3o minutes switching out nearly all of our pins amazed at the selection on cast lanyards.

HKDL is AMAZING!  I can’t even describe it all.  Totally like DL CA, but smaller  and fewer roller coaster “adult” rides which was the only downside.  Everyone in the entire resort was so polite – and easy to talk to with their well-spoken English.  We did ask how to say “thank you” in Cantonese but after a cast member told us, she then said Mandarin was easier to learn and to go with that. =)

So what was so amazing?  PINS! Got some pretty neat ones to bring home.  Shows were great too.  And the decor and added changes to make the park unique stood out.  The games we got to play were also awesome.  There was a CARS 2 themed detective game / scavenger hunt to promote the movie, I got to draw on the sidewalk with water with a man who was disguised as a trash sweeper, and we played “guess who?” – a character guessing game where you only see part of the body.  This game might have been the best as Emily, Winnie, and Fish made us feel super special by making us a certificate and giving us a prize.  Close runner up to that was the free LE pin for completing a research survey.

After pooping out, we had an easy ride home and got back to the Marriott in time for free Happy Hour at the Executive Lounge.  Have I mentioned how awersome Marriott Rewards Gold Membership is?  SO great!  Wine, cocktails, and delicious spring rolls, lamb, teryaki skewers and strawberry shortcake may have substituted dinner.

In our room showered and relaxing watching Wipe Out now.  Hillarious show, btw.

Tomorrow will be a far more cultural experience as we travel to Kowloon. Can’t wait!

Here are some photos from today:

Asia Day 2 – SkyCity Marriott in Hong Kong

by Jenn

Safe in Hong Kong!  Can’t believe it took 90 minutes to get to our airport (about a mile away if that) after we landed.  It didn’t drag on, but yeah it is about 9pm here which is great because we are tired, have a comfy bed, the discovery channel, and cozy robes.

Our flight had a bit of turbulance and maybe I am weird but I kinda enjoyed it – it was like being bounced to sleep. =)  They served us a TON of food – so much that I don’t know how I could possibly be having pangs of hunger right now – but thanks to my wheat thins, I have a munchie.

Jeff didn’t sleep nearly at all and I couldn’t seem to stay awake, so it’ll be interesting to see how we sleep tonight.  Beds are so much more comfortable than airplane seats.

When we got here we were kindly greeted and escorted to check in – then walked to our room – what service!  We are on the 12th floor – GO executive status! – and have access to the concierge lounge with free breakfast and even more stunning views than the one from our window.

Only bad news is that a cyclone warning has been issued – or a sensor is hoisted or something… so ….  DL tomorrow before that plan gets squashed! =)  Bedtime now… so looking forward to hogging it!

Here are the pix from today:

Asia Day 1 – Vancouver Airport

by Jenn

Yay for free internet at YVR!  This trip has so far (knock on wood!) been a breeze compared to our last international experience.  And I just need to reitterate how much I LOVE Air Canada – back to that later.

After the chaos of yesterday came to a close and we got in the car to our hotel by the airport, I was much calmer.  Jeff and I shared a customary mini-moon bottle of Wilson’s Creek Almond Champagne at the Marriott Courtyard LAX and relaxed watching TV until drifting off at about 9pm.

A bright (rather, dark) and early 4am wake up call greeted us this morning and it was nice to already have everything set to go.  The shuttle got us to Terminal 2 in about 10 minutes and check in was pretty simple.  But the fun really started after boarding our aircraft.

Air Canada has a great movie selection (most airlines these days do) as well as TV, music, etc.  But the kicker was for sure the USB port in the back of each seat to charge phones, ipods, etc.  BAD ASS!  I also got to watch Friends – Air Canada scores again.

Flight was smooth, I slept and listened to TV / Movies.  Jeff watched TRON.  We got to see Mt. St. Helen’s from above which was cool, and we got to Vancouver right on time at 9:40am.  Unfortuneately, our flight to Hong Kong has been delayed an hour, but with the convenient wi-fi and power hook-ups, we can surf the net, charge (or keep charged) our electronics, and even play Bakery Story on android!

Here are a few photos from our day so far – won’t be able to post again till probably 7 or 8pm Hong Kong time tomorrow (15 hours ahead = 4-5am PST)

The Japanese YEN is a big bill

by Jeff McNeil

Taking a 2nd look at the currency that we got to take with us, I can’t imagine how big the Japanese wallets are?  These bills are fat!  They are about 50% taller than US Dollars and will not fit in my wallet unless I fold them into smaller portions.  They are also in HUGE demoninations.  If you read the bills they are in teh thousands!  But that doesn’ t mean they are worth that much in USD.  Infact the current excange rates have them at $0.0125 for 1 Yen.  That means 1000 Yen is only $12.50  How crazy is that?  I can buy something for 100,000 Yen and it will only be a $1,200.  Not that I am going to be spending that much money over there on one item, but it makes me wonder how many zeros department stores have to have on hand when prices change.  I should be careful if i go to a Wal-mart over there.  Falling prices really could hurt you if that many numbers where involved.

I am feeling more confident in the plans for Hong Kong and Tokyo now that I have the currency and am getting good with knowing which is which, as well as knowing the current conversion rates.  I feel that things will go smoothly for us once we arrive.  This week will all be about cleaning up the apartment and packing for the trip.  Do you have any suggestions for packing?  Have you been there before, or other Asian countries during the summer?