Kat: April 2013 Archives

Hong Kong

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It took a few days for Hong Kong to grow on me. At first it felt like any other big city with lots of tall buildings and lots and lots of people. Combined with our first unfortunate hostel experience (it turned out be fine, but only after a really bad first impression) our first couple of days left me underwhelmed. Luckily, not only is Greg great when it comes to booking flights through frequent flyer miles, he’s also terrific at using credit card points for hotels, in this case for two nights at the Grand Hyatt. Feeling completely spoiled we used this as our jumping off point and managed to get our bearings and really start to enjoy the city.


Although quite touristy the tram to the top of Victoria Peak was well worth it and exploring the mid-level escalators was great (fun fact - they are the longest covered escalator system in the world spanning 800 meters and 135 meters of elevation change).


After the first three nights on Hong Kong island we crossed the harbor and spent our last day in Kowloon exploring the park, and staying right next to Nathan Road and the Temple Street night market. Again, very touristy but well worth the visit and put new meaning to the words “made in China”.



Overall, I’m not sure that Hong Kong is someplace I’d go out of my way to visit again, but certainly wouldn’t turn down another trip if we’re ever back in the area. In the airport now waiting for our flight to Singapore. Lots of love to everyone!


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Success! We managed to visit China on a 48 hour (whirlwind) layover. When we were planning for the trip we realized that it was going to be almost impossible to get visas for Russia, India and China on our timeline. Greg though, with his bizarrely impressive knowledge of international transit rules, knew that China has a visa-free option for visits shorter than 72 hours. This is contrary to what the US State Department webpage says, however, and thus I wasn’t totally convinced it was going to work until after we made it through immigration. Luckily, score one for Greg.

It was certainly a whirlwind stop, but totally worth it. We stayed at a reasonably nice hostel in a traditional hutong close to Tiananmen square and the Forbidden city. We visited both, taking the requisite pictures of Chairmen Mao, and being blown away by the sheer scale of the Forbidden City. We tried to make it to the Great Wall too, but it just wasn’t going to work on such a short timeline.


Forbidden City

Beijing was probably the most chaotic and foreign place we’ve been to yet. I loved it. Greg, I think, has mixed feelings though it’s hard to tell how much of that is based on the smog or how much is his annoyance with the Great Firewall (he managed to get around it pretty easily, but muttered about how ridiculous it was the whole time). We both kept coming up with things we’d like to see or do on our next visit here though, so that seems like a good sign! Next stop, Hong Kong.



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Japan is the first country I’ve ever been to where I really don’t speak a word of the language. I know hello and thank you, but as Greg points out only the words appropriate during mid-day or in semi-formal situations and I’m sure I don’t even sound confident then. I’ve been surprised by how little English we’ve seen or heard during out week here. Luckily I have Greg who speaks way more Japanese than even I realized and of course there are smiles, pantomimes and pointing at pictures. Without Greg though I’m not sure I would have successfully made it out of Tokyo.

Speaking of which, Tokyo was fantastic and a lot of what I had imagined. Lots and lots of people, more neon lights than I’ve ever seen anywhere and crazy Japanese game shows on the TV. We went to Harajuku, spiritual home of the Japanese tween, and the Meiji shrine which felt like the complete opposite.



We spent the first two days of our time here in Tokyo and then another day at the end of the trip where we came back and found a local L.L.Bean store. Seriously, it was just like a Bean store at home and everyone there told me how much they wanted to visit Freeport. So much fun!


For the rest of our time in Japan we went north to Fukushima and Sendai in search of cherry blossoms. Since it’s that time of year, Greg and I actually based our trip on going to wherever they would be blooming and didn’t settle on Sendai until a week or so before we arrived. I’m so glad that’s where we wound up. Sendai is still a big city, but felt far more manageable than Tokyo.

On Tuesday we woke up to hear about Boston. It certainly made for a somber start to the day, but we took the bullet train north to Fukushima and hiked up “Flower Viewing Mountain” to see the blossoms. They were absolutely breathtaking, a wonderful distraction, and totally worth the hike even while lugging all of our stuff along (which also made for a pretty good sense of accomplishment).


That night we took the train just a bit further to Sendai and spent the next day just settling in for a bit and exploring our surroundings. We also happened to be at Starbucks on Wednesday night when I experienced my first earthquake. It was a 5.9 (ish, depending on who is reporting it). The building started to shake and everyone, Greg included, got a cell phone alert explaining what was going on. It was certainly disconcerting, and especially given the area we’re in, but seriously everyone around us just glanced at their phones and went right back to what they were doing.

On Thursday we walked across town to go see the Aoba castle. This was once the home of Date Masamune - feudal lord of the area. Only a few of the outside walls of the castle still remain, but they were impressive and the view over Sendai was worth the walk too. Greg and I had been trying to figure out what we wanted to do with our last full day in Sendai when the idea of a baseball game came up. We got back to the hotel, looked up the schedule and realized there was one that night. So we took a cab across town and had a blast watching the Tohoku Rakutan Golden Eagles play the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.


Friday was just another day of hanging out and taking care of some life stuff. These are some of my favorite days so far. I love exploring local grocery stores (the pictures below is barely a fraction of the interesting sea life we saw at the market) and some of the funniest moments of the trip so far have come from the most routine tasks. For example, Greg and I were trying to do laundry and had run out of detergent. Wanting to make sure we were getting soap and not bleach we googled the name on the package for a description and got this; “If you are concerned about the fall colors, put the juice in the shadows, every five minutes, color, what color of the wash.” We had a good laugh, decided that was good enough for us and our fall colors still seem to be ok.


Hope everyone is doing well and of course lots of love always! We’re off to China next (fingers crossed - I’ll explain more later).


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Another place that I'm thrilled to have visited. Not only has Sydney been a really fun city to explore, but it's been a great place to just chill and regroup for a bit. The first day we were here Greg and I meant to go on a walking tour offered by our hostel but managed to somehow miss it (a story for another time). So we set out on our own and before the day was through had done almost two full laps of the city and walked something close to 13 miles. We saw some definite highlights though including the Opera house, the Rocks neighborhood the ANZAC war memorial and Darling harbor. All definitely worth the walk. P1070398 The next day, obviously a bit worn out, we decided to just take it easy and find some decent wifi for some more trip planning. Please somebody tell me I'm being ridiculous if I ever complain about wifi speeds in the US again. We finally figured out that the Art Gallery has the best connection so stayed there for a bit and got caught up on a few things. A trip to Australia of course wouldn't be complete without a good pub crawl too so that night we scoped out a few and settled on our new favorite bar in Sydney, Hart's Pub. Not only were their local beers from Rocks Brewing Company tasty but had great branding with names like the Boxer, the Convict and the Governor. What took this bar over the top, however, were their JalapeƱo Poppers. We both agree they were the best we've ever had anywhere. Spicy enough for Greg, but somehow still flavorful enough for me (with a pint close by of course). I'd consider going back to Sydney just for these alone. http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8247/8650810430_9457410437.jpg On the last full day in Australia Greg and I decided that we should check out the zoo. The Taronga zoo gets great reviews and since we're about as far away from home as we're going to get it seemed like fun. It's actually across the harbor from Sydney so we got to take a ferry across with some more great views of the Opera house. The zoo itself is really well put together and we saw all the classics, koalas, wallabies, wombats, kangaroos, pelicans and even a tasmanian devil. P1070496 Still sounds like a whirlwind stop, I know, but honestly after the pace we'd started this trip out on a full week here felt like a month. We'd of course love to spend more time (and see more than just Sydney), but it will have to wait until next time. Off to Japan....

New Zealand

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Yay for an extra hour of sleep! As Greg points out we did lose an entire day crossing into New Zealand, but last night we got an hour back with our second daylight saving change of the year. Thankfully the hotel reminded us as Greg and I would have had absolutely no idea. Fun fact #3, did you know that Napier, New Zealand is the Art Deco capital of the world? Apparently after an earthquake destroyed the downtown area in 1931 they rebuilt it with the style of the day, Art Deco. It's like a Disney main street for art history buffs. So strange and wonderful at the same time. Art Deco We've had an incredible, if totally whirlwind, time in New Zealand so far. We spent the first night in Auckland and managed to visit the art gallery (wonderful) and by chance have a drink next door to the oldest pub in New Zealand (thank you FourSquare). The next day we took a very scenic drive around Coromandel bay and then down to Taupo for the night (almost all of it successfully on the left hand side of the road). On Saturday we explored Taupo, spending the morning at Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland (sounds cheesy, but was incredible) followed by a swim in some local hot springs before driving to Napier for the night. Spent the night in an old converted hospital where the fluorescent light buzzed, flickered, and freaked us out a bit a la Bates Motel before we discovered the floor lamp and then got a great night's sleep. Thermal We then took the wine trail to Wellington with Greg driving the first part so I could enjoy the wineries and my taking over for the second half of the trip so we could stop and enjoy a tasting at the Tui brewery. Wine Beer Our stay in Wellington was terrific, of course, and a great place to just chill and regroup for a bit. The Te Papa museum was fantastic if you're ever in the area and one of Greg's colleagues gave us some excellent food and drink suggestions. Thanks Jeen! We're in the airport lounge now waiting for our flight to Sydney and hopefully another great adventure there. Best wishes to everyone and thanks to those of you who've kept us posted on events at home too. Lots of love, Kat and Greg

French Polynesia

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8610870761_7a0357cf5c_b Fun fact #1, did you know that a sea turtle's gender isn't determined genetically but instead by what temperature the eggs are kept at before they hatch? Warmer eggs mean females, cooler temperatures males. I had no idea. Hence, global warming, not so great for the turtle population. Besides the fact that Bora Bora itself was almost indescribably amazing one of the selling points of our hotel was that it has a turtle sanctuary and recovery center on site. After our sea turtle experience in Hawaii last year Greg and I have a soft spot for these gals* so this was a major highlight. Along with the turtles everything else seriously met (and in many ways exceeded) every expectation set by any picture I'd ever seen of the place. Turquoise water, warm breeze and lots of overwater bungalows. Greg and I agreed that this was the honeymoon part of the trip so totally splurged on the accommodations, again completely worth it. Our bungalow came complete with a glass floor so we could look down at the fish and rays swimming below and stairs that led straight into the crystal clear lagoon. Everything about Le Meridien was fantastic and whether because of island culture or the nature of the place itself we met some of the nicest people, both staff and guests. P1040872 Alas, all good things....certainly made easier by reminding ourselves that we're off to New Zealand next! P1060964 *Fun fact #2 - the word for turtle in French is feminine so all of the turtles in French Polynesia are referred to as 'she'.


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Hawaii was again wonderful. If Greg and I ever disappear for awhile I'd suggest looking there first. We weren't super adventurous with our destination and went right back to the same area of Waikiki where we'd stayed last year. First place on this trip though that we weren't staying with family so served as another way that we managed to ease ourselves into this adventure. Despite that our first day there was met with rain and flash flood warnings (and that we did manage to get at least some rain everyday) Hawaii was of course wonderful. Cocktails on the beach, swimming in the ocean - with rainbows sporadically appearing over Waikiki, and a wonderful drive to and shrimp truck dinner on the North Shore (with a stop at the Dole plantation for some of the best pineapple soft serve you can imagine of course)! http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8522/8650535424_790e576af1.jpg Just before leaving on Saturday Greg and I went to Pearl Harbor and the Arizona memorial, something that we'd missed last time. Completely worth it. Not only were the video and tour of the memorial very well done, there were a couple of museums and lots to do in the visitor center itself. It was all incredibly moving and I could think of at least a dozen people I'd like to go back there with someday. P1040761 P1040799 Tough of course to leave Hawaii but now on our way to Tahiti!
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This page is a archive of recent entries written by Kat in April 2013.

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