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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Mt. Rainier, July 2015

Still catching up on things I meant to blog. Some pictures from our early July trip to Mt. Rainier! We were quite lucky that the wildflowers were all in bloom, apparently several weeks earlier than usual.

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Mt. Rainier with cascading stream

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Mt. Rainier with wildflowers in bloom

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From the steps to the path behind the visitor’s center

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Mt. Rainier with rippled reflection

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Roots of a fallen tree in the Grove of the Patriarchs

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Tall, tall trees in the Grove of the Patriarchs

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Ferns in the Grove of the Patriarchs

We were only there for two days, and there were clearly still many things we could have seen and done. All the more reason to go back!

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Japan & Hong Kong 2015: Day 15

And now, our last day in Hong Kong! We originally had another big hike planned for this day, but as I recall, we got kind of a late start and the weather wasn’t great, so we ended up going to Hong Kong Park, where there was a tea museum (but it was closed that day), and an aviary. It was kind of raining, so we went to hang out with the birds for a while.

I haz a stick?

I haz a stick?

I'm so pretty.

I’m so pretty.

One advantage to the less-than-great weather was the line for the Peak Tram was finally sane! So we finally got to ride that. None of my photos attempting to capture the extreme steepness of the track really showed it, so here’s a shot from inside the terminal.

Peak Tram terminal art wall.

Peak Tram terminal art wall.

And some of Hong Kong’s buildings with the night lights coming on as we walked back to the apartment. By this point, I was rather fond of that building with all the X-crossed lights, because we had used it for navigation several times.

Ubiquitous Hong Kong skyscrapers.

Ubiquitous Hong Kong skyscrapers.

And then we packed all our stuff, got up the next morning, and flew back to the US. The end!

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The next day was dedicated to Lantau Island. After the ferry ride over, we took the bus up to the Tian Tan Buddha complex. As you will see, it is at the top of the mountain. (This will be important later.)

Tian Tan Buddha, head in the clouds.

Tian Tan Buddha, head in the clouds.

Tian Tan Buddha from the top of the stairs.

Tian Tan Buddha from the top of the stairs.

Complex rafter details.

Complex rafter details.

So remember how I said the Buddha was on top of a mountain? The other place we wanted to go was Tai O, the town built on stilts in the water. Which is at absolute bottom of the mountains at the edge of the island. And Gene thought he had found a series of more or less interconnected hiking paths that would get us all the way there! Note that all guidebooks tell you to take the bus. There is no suggestion hiking between the two sites is a thing. But we did it anyway! After several hours and a few questionable turns, we did make it. It was very… humid. Gene took a picture of me at the end that he prefaced with “Okay, show me your ‘I’m so done with this’ face!” (I’m not going to post that one.)

Some views from our boat ride through the stilt houses and out into the bay.

Tai O stilt houses, with personal boats and balcony gardens.

Tai O stilt houses, with personal boats and balcony gardens.

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Fishing boat at the entrance to Tai O’s river.

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Japan & Hong Kong 2015: Day 13

Our next day was all in Kowloon, where we had found quite a few things to do. First we stopped in a park to watch the weekly martial arts demonstration (kung fu, tai chi, and dragon and lion dancing). It was so incredibly hot and humid that I didn’t get out my camera to take any pictures, despite enjoying the performance. I did note that martial arts demos are the same everywhere, though, and I found myself analyzing all the kids’ performances with the eyes of a tournament judge. Happily, there were several who showed excellent promise. Eventually the adults got to do their thing, though, and I was able to enjoy those more for the artistry, particularly the woman who appeared to be in charge of the tai chi group, who did a solo form with a fan that was my favorite.

The park also had a walkway lined with statues of famous animated characters, which were interesting. Gene took this picture that accurately captures my feelings about the weather and has the unfortunate side-effect of making me look like I want to murder an otherwise rather amusing cartoon pig.

Contemplating murder or just thinking about how frigging hot I am?

Contemplating murder or just thinking about how miserably hot I am?

Then we went to Wong Tai Sin Temple, where it was slightly cooler because at least there was more air moving around. Hence more pictures:

Mother entrance lion. (Note baby lion under her paw.)

Mother entrance lion. (Note baby lion under her paw.)

Lanterns strung across the courtyard.

Lanterns strung across the courtyard.

Turtle-lion fountain surrounded by actual turtles.

Turtle-lion fountain surrounded by actual turtles.

We took a quick jaunt through the Chungking Mansions, which are indeed an experience, but also full of narrow, winding hallways and lots of people, so not one I wanted to experience for very long. (Also no pictures.)

Then we spent the rest of the late afternoon in the Walled City Park, looking around as we waited for it to get dark enough to head to the waterfront for nighttime Hong Kong skyline lights. Apparently there’s been a big project recently to make an accurate reconstruction of where all the buildings were in the Kowloon Walled City, which was torn down in 1993-94 in a fit of progress. According to the guy we talked to, one of people who had worked on gathering all the information from former residents and then making the reconstructed model, quite a few residents of Kowloon are still resentful of the park that took the Walled City’s place. It’s a very nice park, but after having seen the model, I couldn’t help but wonder how all those buildings and people really fit into what seems like not really that much space.

Kowloon Walled City reconstructed model.

Kowloon Walled City reconstructed model.

We were told this model is really pretty accurate. While we were there, a former resident came by the exhibit and was indeed able to point to exactly where he used to live. The main problem, the project researcher told us, was that they hadn’t been able to convince the company that made the scale model to give them enough tiny shacks and improvised buildings to put on all the roofs. So we’ll have to use our imaginations for that.

Some pictures of the park as it looks now:

Walkway mosaic.

Walkway mosaic.

Topiary dragon.

Topiary dragon.

Windows along the covered walkways.

Windows along the covered walkways.

Not pictured, because it seemed rude to take their pictures without asking, are the residents who do seem to appreciate the park as it is now: at least two separate groups of cosplayers doing major photo shoots, plus a fashion photography crew.

When it seemed like it was finally getting dark, we headed to the waterfront for the “Symphony of Lights” that’s supposed to happen along the Hong Kong skyline every night. Sadly, this was rather underwhelming thanks to the pervasive cloud cover I mentioned in my last post. Note, for example, the two sad green roof lasers valiantly trying to cut through the fog:

A very sad symphony of light.

A very sad symphony of light.

At least I managed to get this pretty cool picture of a boat:

Dramatic sails against the Hong Kong skyline.

Dramatic sails against the Hong Kong skyline.

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The eleventh day of our trip was mostly taken up by traveling from Tokyo to Hong Kong, which was fortunately not very eventful. Hong Kong is, of course, very much its own uniquely international place, but the two-hour miscommunication between the owner of our AirBnB rental and the doorman of the building that resulted in our taking refuge in a KFC for wi-fi and air conditioning until we were allowed in did remind me I was technically in China. Fortunately, it all got sorted out in fairly short order. Once we made it into the apartment, though, all I managed to do was eat some dinner because I had caught a crud during our final days in Japan and it was causing my asthma to flare into an actual mild attack–I so rarely get them now, I had almost forgotten what it was like, and I didn’t enjoy the reminder very much. So I wimped out on further activity for the evening, electing to stay in my room with my Kindle while Gene went out for some city night lights photography.

The next day, I felt enough better to actually do stuff, so out we went. When asked what I felt up to, I replied, “Walking is fine, but I probably shouldn’t try anything too exerting, like climbing Victoria Peak instead of taking the tram,” . . . which of course meant that, due to that day being Saturday, the line for the tram was ridiculously long and we ended up sort of accidentally climbing the Peak on foot anyway via an extremely circuitous route that started out going gradually upwards via the Midlands escalators, but then ended with a very steep climb on one of the fitness trails. Clearly I shouldn’t have said anything. My overwhelming memory of this day is how incredibly humid it was. All of Hong Kong was essentially inside a cloud from the time we arrived, and the higher up the Peak we got, the more inside the cloud we were, too.

Hong Kong from Victoria Peak, just below the clouds.

Hong Kong from partway up Victoria Peak, just below the clouds.

The top of the trail comes out where the tram ends, in a plaza between two malls, more or less, but there’s another trail that continues up to Victoria Peak Garden, which we took after I managed to start breathing again. On the way there and then in the Garden itself, I think we must have seen at least half a dozen couples having official wedding photo sessions done. Each couple had an entourage of photographer(s), photographer’s assistants, friends, and people holding various props (balloons were popular.) I sat on a bench for a while and watched several couples take turns having pictures taken at the below gazebo (picture taken between groups to try to show how low the cloud layer was), amusing myself by how differently the various grooms took direction for cheesy and often awkward poses meant to look like they were gazing longingly at their brides.

Victoria Peak Garden designated wedding photography gazebo.

Victoria Peak Garden designated wedding photography gazebo.

I also observed that the brides took different approaches to footwear. The ones with the traditional long, trailing skirts had an easier time of it than the more modern, short-skirted brides, because they could wear boots or sneakers and thus fared much better on the grass.

When it started to get dark, we went back to the malls to find somewhere to eat dinner and then wait for true dark to fall so Gene could take some night skyline pictures from above. Unfortunately, the observation deck from the top of the mall was so high in the clouds, all my pictures turned out too misty to be interesting. The best one I took was on the way back down, which (again) we walked, because the line for the return tram was just as long as the one to come up earlier in the day.

Hong Kong at night from the trail on Victoria Peak.

Hong Kong at night from the trail on Victoria Peak.

All in all, a thorough and exhausting introduction to Hong Kong, but by the time we got back to the apartment, I don’t think I have ever been more happy to take a shower.

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Our last day in Japan! In keeping with our floral tourism theme for Tokyo-based activities, Gene found an interesting special exhibit at the Miraikan museum on Odaiba: Floating Flower Garden. The basic premise, as described on the installation team’s website:

A floating flower garden filled with living flowers that float up and down in relation to the movement of people in the space.

When a viewer gets close to this flower-filled space, the flowers close to the viewer rise upwards all at once, creating a hemispherical space with the viewer at its center. In other words, although the whole space is filled with flowers, a hemispherical space is constantly being created with the viewer at its center and the viewer is free to move around wherever they want. If many viewers get close to one another, the dome spaces link up to form one single space. In this interactive floating flower garden viewers are immersed in flowers, and become completely one with the garden itself.

Some pictures from inside:

Surrounded by flowers.

Surrounded by flowers.

More flowers!

More flowers!

The room itself isn’t that big (they were only letting in about 4 people at a time so there would actually be space to walk around), but the walls are mirrored, which makes it seem much bigger. Here’s a shot Gene got of me that gives you some idea.

Me in the Floating Flower Garden. (Photo by Gene.)

Me in the Floating Flower Garden. (Photo by Gene.)

Some other scenes from around Odaiba:

Daikanransha, briefly the world's tallest ferris wheel before the London Eye opened.

Daikanransha, briefly the world’s tallest ferris wheel before the London Eye opened.

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Fuji TV’s futuristic-looking headquarters building.

Gundam statue in the DiverCity plaza. Because Japan.

Gundam statue in the DiverCity plaza. Because Japan.

Tourist boats lit up for an evening sail by the Rainbow Bridge.

Tourist boats lit up for an evening sail by the Rainbow Bridge.

And then it was back to the apartment to pack up so we’d be ready to head to Hong Kong the next day!

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Continuing our theme of overwhelmingly monochromatic floral displays, the next day we headed off to Ashikaga Flower Park to see the wisteria. So much purple!

Like purple rain just above our heads.

Like purple rain just above our heads.

The rarer double-blossom variety.

The rarer double-blossom variety.

With the top of the crowd’s heads, to give some sense of the scale of these trellises.

Expansive trellising.

Expansive trellising.

A pink variety.

A pink variety.

We spent a good half the day there, including trying the wisteria-flavored ice cream (purple, of course), but I wanted to get back to Tokyo in time to go to the temari museum before it closed, as this was the only day it was going to be open while we were there. But then, disaster! The shinkansen wasn’t running. How could this happen?! Apparently there was some electric fault on the line. I began to doubt we would make it in time, as our original time table had already been cutting it close. Fortunately, Gene managed to find a quick reroute on local train lines, and the flower park isn’t so far away from Tokyo for this method to have increased our return travel time by too much.

We arrived at the temari museum, which is located in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Tokyo, about an hour before closing time. The museum is really the ground floor of the main temari teacher in Tokyo’s house, which means it is tiny, beautifully laid out, and easily viewable in a limited amount of time. They ask that visitors only take photos for their own use, so I won’t be posting any of the exhibits. However, on our way out (after I bought myself three new books and restrained myself from several more), the temari sensei herself had come downstairs and, after being politely introduced by the museum assistant, gave us both tiny temari as gifts.

My tiny temari.

My tiny temari.

Gene's tiny temari on his camera bag.

Gene’s tiny temari on his camera bag.

Then, since we still had the evening free, we decided to go to the top of Roppongi Hills to get a good view of the city from up high. Fortunately for us, they had literally just reopened the roof observation deck that day (I forget why it had been closed). They were also having a special Star Wars art exhibit in one of the exhibition spaces on the top floor, which had attracted quite a crowd, so it took a little while to actually get onto the roof (where there was also a Darth Vader model set up that people could have their picture taken with as if dueling with light sabers), but I thought it was worth it.

Tokyo Tower.

Tokyo Tower.

End of sunset, lights just coming on.

End of sunset, lights just coming on.

Night lights.

Night lights.

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