On Tuesday, October 18, we boarded a train to Koblenz that traveled roughly along the Mosel River. One interesting thing we noticed about the train is that it didn't have windows built to open in emergencies; instead, there are glass breaking tools attached to the walls at intervals, with nearby windows marked with red spots where people are supposed to crack them open if required. I don't think I've ever seen such a system before.

After arriving at Koblenz, we went on along the Rhein to Frankfurt. We had originally thought about getting off the train to take a short cruise up the river for the scenery, but that would have added a lot of time to the trip, and we could see a lot from the train windows anyway. It was just hard to take pictures due to the speed and the foliage of trees blocking the view. Still, I did get a few shots of the many cathedrals and quaint villages and castles (...and more castles...and more castles...) we passed.

We arrived at Frankfurt Station early in the afternoon and checked into our hotel, which was conveniently close (though the tradeoff for that was that the location is in the red light district). It was gray and rainy, but it was still light enough that we decided to walk around the city a bit. We mainly wandered around wherever the sights took us, without any particular goal in mind. (At one point, a large police-escorted procession passed us, and we thought maybe Angela Merkel was in the convoy, but we later saw on the news that she was in Berlin, so it must have been someone else.) We came across lots of scenic buildings and strolled through another cathedral.

Oh, one more thing. The burning question whenever it comes to trip planning: Does it have MANGA?

Yes. Yes, it does.

After supper, we wended our way back to our hotel, using distinctive skyscrapers as landmarks. (It's definitely quite the modern city, despite all the historical sites we visited.) We repeated the experience the next day, taking different routes to see more of the city. We came across some more fun sights, like an out of the way Lego store, and a decorative restaurant. We did get a tad lost along the way, accidentally walking to the complete opposite side of the city and visiting the zoo gift shop, but at least that was a big enough landmark that we were able to re-orient ourselves and head back.

One sobering part of our exploration was coming across commemorative metal markers embedded in the sidewalk noting the names of Jewish people who had been taken away during the war. There was even one a few yards away from our hotel.

After lunch, as we were on the way to our hotel, I stopped in at the local game shop to browse. I was hoping to find some games that I'd like to buy that are available only in German and were never published in English, but sadly I didn't locate any of the ones on my list. However, I did make a different discovery. When I was preparing for trading games at Essen, one person contacted me and offered to buy one of the games I had available. He also asked if I could order a particular title that he said was sold out in Europe. Sadly, it wasn't available in the US either, so I wasn't able to get a copy for him. As it turns out, though, this shop in Frankfurt had a copy of it on their shelf. When we got back to our hotel that evening, I managed to send a message to this person to let him know it was there, and he contacted the store and ordered it. Happy ending!

We spent the remainder of our evening playing games in our hotel room and listening to the rain outside. It was almost time for the final leg of our journey.
Sunday, October 16, we returned to the main Essen train station for the next leg of our journey. We stood near the platforms for a while as I tried to decipher the route map to find which train on which platform we would need to take. Eventually I gave up on that and left my parents watching the luggage while I searched other areas of the station until I located a master train schedule with the information I needed. I bought our group ticket and we boarded the train to Cologne (Köln).

Our hotel was only about two blocks from the station, so we didn't have much trouble finding the place and checking in. The man at the front desk even came outside and greeted us by name as we approached, then gave us a map of the city and recommendations of things to see and places to eat. We dropped off our luggage in our room and went out to visit the sights.

The main attraction in Cologne is the cathedral, which is a stunning architectural feat. The entire place had been bombed to rubble in the war and was reconstructed afterward, matching the new portions to the recovered pieces of old stone.

We only looked briefly at the cathedral that evening, as we were interested in seeing a museum or two, which were only a few blocks away. We set off in the direction that we thought the museums should be, according to our map...but as we walked and walked and didn't see any sign of them, we knew something was wrong. We kept checking the map and comparing it to the streets around us, but there are no regular street signs, just the occasional one posted on the sides of buildings.

Finally we crossed a subway line that had maps outside the entrances, and by following those we were able to re-orient ourselves. It turned out that we were basing our reading of the map on the location of the cathedral, but what we had thought was the front of the cathedral was actually the side, so we were off by 90 degrees. That was why we couldn't make sense of any of the locations.

By the time we got back to where we had intended to go, we had been walking for about an hour and were too tired and hungry to spend any time at the museums. We entered a crowded plaza lined with shops and restaurants and looked for a place to eat. Since arriving in Germany, we had eaten Italian (pizza), American (burgers), Japanese (sushi), and Indian (curry), but the only "traditional" German food we had tried was the Berliner jelly doughnut that [livejournal.com profile] megory had bought specifically so that she could quote Eddie Izzard.

We sought out a traditional brewhouse and ordered the potato pancake meal, served with applesauce and thin slices of heavy rye bread. We also tried the local beer, called Kölsch, which is supposed to be famous in the area. (It just tasted like regular beer to me, but I'm not really a beer drinker.) We were glad that the man at the hotel had warned us about the beer-serving custom in this city, which is that the server will refill your cup whenever it is empty...but the refills aren't free. The server keeps track of the refills by making tally marks on the coaster, then bill you for everything at the end of the meal. If you don't want the refills, you have to place the coaster over the top of the glass.

We returned to our hotel after supper for some board gaming and a good night's sleep. In the morning, we were treated to a substantial breakfast buffet, which was included in the room price. It was an impressive service of various cheeses, jams, and pickles, with toast, boiled eggs, fresh fruit, pastries, yogurt, puddings, granola, and cafe-style coffee. We did some more early-morning sightseeing in and around the cathedral, then checked out and carted our luggage back to the train station for our ride to Trier.

I had originally heard about Trier because it's the setting for a board game that came out at Essen in a previous year. (I picked up a copy while I was there, knowing we would be visiting the site.) It's on the Mosel River, which is famous for the vineyards that grow along the slopes that line the river valley. Some of the slopes are so steep, they appear nearly vertical, as perhaps can be seen in this shot I took from the train. Something else we could see from the train was that Germany has lots of solar panels. I knew there was an internet meme going around touting Germany's dedication to solar power, but reading something on the internet isn't the same as seeing all the panels in person.

In Trier, I had opted to reserve a room at a hotel a fair hike from the station. In exchange, our hotel was literally a few doors down from the main tourist attraction, the Porta Nigra, a structure built centuries ago by Romans.

Not only is the imposing Porta Nigra quite photogenic, it fronts on a popular courtyard surrounded on all sides by decorative buildings. We spent some time wandering up and down the streets, gazing at all the carvings and towers and fountains and statues and other artistic structures in the area. (Of perhaps equal import at this point in our trip, we located and made use of a coin laundry, which happened to be down the street from the Karl Marx House.)

The crowds thinned and shops started closing once the sun went down after about 5pm. We selected a restaurant for supper, and the place was practically vacant, which was quite the contrast to the number of people having drinks and desserts at the outdoor tables earlier in the day. After supper we strolled down the block to our hotel and prepared to head to the Big City. Next stop: Frankfurt.
On October 12, we hauled our luggage through the Underground to the airport and left on a flight for Dusseldorf. The first thing we had to do was figure out how to catch a train to our destination, Essen. I spent several minutes fiddling with the ticket vending machine and managed to get a group ticket, but I wasn't quite sure how to read the route map to find a train to our destination. From what I could tell, the next express train wasn't leaving for another hour. Fortunately for us, a kind stranger asked if he could be of assistance. It turns out he was going the same place, and he knew how to find a train (not an express) that would depart sooner. He was also traveling on a group ticket that was valid for up to five people, so he let us travel with him and share his ticket in exchange for me giving him the one that I had just bought.

The German train system is extensive and relatively convenient, if you know how to buy the proper ticket and read the train schedule. What seemed bizarre to me (in comparison to the train system in Japan) is that there were never any turnstiles at any of the stations for checking the tickets. Instead, the system relies on random spot checks by conductors, with fines for passengers traveling without tickets. Also, there are substantial discounts for traveling in groups; only one person in the group has to be carrying a ticket.

We got off the train at the main station in Essen and located the tourist information office where we bought our tickets for the gaming trade show (Internationale Spieltage, aka Spiel) we were there to attend. Then we took the subway to our hotel, which was around the corner from the convention center. We splurged on this particular hotel, and I think it was worth it for not having to travel the subway every morning to commute to the convention. Tens of thousands of people attend, and though many drive cars, the subway is still packed to the gills every day. The hotel also had good wi-fi service, which would turn out to be uncommon (at least at the more budget hotels where we stayed later).

The morning of October 13, we set out early to find breakfast. We selected a little cafe a couple blocks away. Germany is full of little sandwich and pastry cafes; while that made it easy to find something quick to eat, eventually one gets tired of eating sandwiches. We were partial to this one, however, because it served a brand of tomato juice with a familiar name.

After breakfast, we walked to the convention center, and along the way we first noticed the bike path. Bikes are everywhere in Germany, and while the bike paths are sometimes marked on the streets, often they are part of the sidewalk. The distinguishing feature is that they are paved with a different type of brick from the area intended for pedestrians. (This technique is used for other purposes as well, such as demarcating handicapped parking.) While this is certainly clever, since it eliminates the need for repeatedly touching up painted lines, it means that pedestrians have to be constantly watching the stones at their feet to make sure they aren't wandering into a bicycle zone.

While I'm on the topic of paving techniques, I should mention that Germany seems to have a love affair with cobblestones. Not only do they use bumpy cobblestones for regular sidewalks, they also use them for areas where they KNOW people are going to be rolling wheeled objects, such as the area in front of a hotel, or the handicap-accessible ramp leading to a major train station. Honestly, I can't imagine what they were thinking.

Anyway, we spent the morning browsing the vendors at the convention. While not as gargantuan as Comiket, it's still huge, and the whole thing is packed with people trying and buying board games. I had made up a list in advance of the games I wanted to see and purchase, so I dashed through the halls with my parents in tow to get to the vendors I was afraid might sell out. Once the initial rush was over, we wandered in a more leisurely fashion. We ran into Richard Ham, a popular game reviewer, who remembered us from Gen Con two years ago. We also stopped by the table where his wife was selling her handmade glass crafts, and I bought a set of decorative coasters.

At noon, we attended the math trade, where I exchanged a bunch of games that I didn't need anymore for a bunch of new-to-me games. My parents were a great help in this endeavor, as they could stay in one place with my stack of games to be given away while I could venture into the mass of traders to locate the people with games for me to collect. Once the trading was accomplished for the day, we went out to a pizza place for lunch, then plunged back into the crowds for more exploration of the vendor halls. We stayed until the evening, when my mother and I attended an informal meetup of a bunch of women who chat on the BoardGame Geek forum. It was fascinating to meet everyone in person; they were not only from Germany, but also Poland and other surrounding countries. Everyone spoke English because it was the one language they could all understand.

Once the gathering broke up, we picked up my dad and all went out for supper. I had looked up a list of vegetarian-friendly restaurants in the area, so we went to one of the places on the list, which was actually a burger joint. It wasn't something I would have tried on my own if I hadn't seen it on the list, because I would have thought there wouldn't be anything we could eat. As it turns out, despite the prevalence of sausage everywhere, vegetarianism (and veganism) is apparently popular in Germany. Many restaurants have special vegetarian sections of the menu. We never had any trouble finding something to eat. Even when we went to a steak house where the name of the restaurant was literally Meat (well, technically it was "Me[e/a]t"), they would substitute a vegetarian burger for any of the regular burgers on the menu.

Friday, October 14, was mostly a repeat of the previous day. We got breakfast at the cafe, then attended Essen until the midday math trade, where I concluded all my game exchanges. In the afternoon, we walked into town, where I wanted to stop by a bookstore to buy an authentic German cookbook. We had a late lunch of sushi before returning to the convention for a last-minute game purchase. At that point, I measured the weight of my suitcase with all the games in it, and I found that I was at my limit. I could still fit a little more in my handcarry luggage, but as I intended to buy souvenirs later in the trip, I knew that I had to stop buying games or it wouldn't all fit.

Due to that, we decided not to go back to the convention, even though our tickets were good for two more days. Instead, we spent Saturday morning at the shopping mall near the main train station. It was interesting to see all the shops there, and we had a nice Indian curry lunch. We also encountered our first public restrooms, which are pay-to-use. The one at the mall had an attendant standing in front of a table with a little tray of coins. When a person finishes using the restroom, the requirement is to toss a 50 Euro-cent coin into the tray. Because of the necessity of paying coins to use restrooms, I had to make sure to keep an abundance of small coins at all times.

The system at the mall at least made sense. Later, we would encounter the system used at the train stations, which is rather bizarre. The restrooms are blocked by automated gates. There is a machine on the wall that accepts coins to open the gate. Your choices are either to pay 1 Euro coin, in which case you get back a coupon good for 50 cents at any of the station shops, or to pay a 50 cent coin plus a 50 cent restroom coupon (from a previous visit), in which case you get nothing back. So you're actually being charged double if you use the coupon. One might think this system is intended to save the cost of hiring an attendent, as at the mall, but in fact there was an attendent present (I presume to help people who didn't know how to operate the machine and to make sure there were no gate-jumpers). I didn't really understand the point of the strange coupon system, but I guess it works for them.

We walked back to our hotel and packed for the rest of our trip.
My trip started on October 9, when I hopped on an outbound plane at SFO. My first stop was LAX, where I had to make a transfer. If you've never been through LAX, let me just say that they have a serious signage deficiency. I had to stop and ask staff several times where I was supposed to go for my connection, because there weren't any signs showing the way. For example, my domestic flight landed in a tiny outbuilding, and I had to board a bus to drive across the tarmac to a different terminal. There were two available buses, one bound for Terminal 4 and one bound for Terminal 6. I checked the flight departure board for information about the location of my next flight, and all it said was "TBIT."

Nowhere did it explain what TBIT meant, nor did it say which of the two buses would get me there.

That was just my first experience with frustration at this airport. It's a good thing I allowed plenty of time for my connection when I booked my ticket, because such situations kept happening. Either there were no signs, or the sign was facing the opposite direction so that I was approaching from the rear where I couldn't read it, or the sign pointed me toward an area marked "authorized personnel only," or there was an intersection and the sign was at the end of the hallway so you would have to be lucky enough to pick the right path first before seeing it.

In any case, I made my flight, and I landed safely at Heathrow the morning of October 10. My parents, who had arrived there several days earlier, picked me up and helped me get my luggage to the hotel. I was bringing a checked suitcase packed full of games, which I would be trading for different games when I reached Germany. In the meantime, I had to maneuver it through the city's Underground, which was exceedingly inconvenient because half the stations don't have elevators or escalators, only stairs. I guess they expect people with wheelchairs or strollers just won't use half the stations?

Another problem I encountered was that I hadn't packed the right outerwear. The temperature was in the 80s when I left San Francisco. I figured it would be colder, but I estimated it would be in the 60s, so I packed mainly T-shirts and a couple sweatshirts. As it turns out, the weather was in the 40s and 50s for most of my trip; it even got down into the 30s for a while when I was in Munich. If I had known, I would have brought my winter coat. I ended up borrowing a windbreaker from my parents, which helped cut the chill a bit.

After settling my things at the hotel, we went out for lunch at a nearby bookstore called Foyle's, which had free wi-fi (our hotel didn't) and a cafe on the top floor. I had my first meal of tea and scones. It was quite good, and it came with enough tea that all three of us could share one. After eating, we walked over to the British Museum, which was only a few blocks away. There were lots of buses traveling the streets, and my parents had ridden them to see the city a bit before I arrived, but I preferred to walk.

The biggest annoyance when walking anywhere was that the city is full of smokers, and everyone apparently lights up the moment they step outside a building. No matter where we went, we were always surrounded by clouds of cigarette smoke. Heck, even Tokyo has outlawed smoking on the sidewalks, and they smoke like fiends there. If they can do it, why not London? To be fair, Germany had the same issue. There were people smoking not only on the sidewalks, but also waiting on train platforms, sitting at outdoor tables at cafes, and standing in doorways. The main difference was that the population density in Germany was generally less, so we would occasionally encounter patches of breathable air. London was so packed, the smoke was inescapable most of the day. Really, London, WHY SO MUCH SMOKE?!

Anyway, we spent a few hours viewing the museum, by which point I was ready to crash. We made arrangements to meet early the next morning and then turned in for the night.

On the morning of October 11, we set out in search of breakfast. We ended up going to McDonald's, where we knew we could get something hot and fast. They had an interesting system, where they had installed giant touch-screen panels on the wall for people to place their orders. Once the order is placed, people just wait around for their numbers to be called on a display screen, then pick up the order and go. No need to interact with a staff person at all. I haven't been to a McDonald's in years, so I don't know if we do the same thing here, but I had never seen that before.

After eating, we walked down through the theater district. We passed by the place where they were performing the Harry Potter show, which was decorated so that you couldn't miss it. Patrick Stewart was performing at another place nearby. If I had been staying longer, it would have been nice to have seen some kind of performance, but I just didn't have time. We wandered through Chinatown, which was practically vacant at that hour, and continued on toward Trafalgar Square.

By the time we got there, pedestrian traffic was starting to pick up. That's when I also started to notice that about 70% of the pedestrians completely ignore the traffic signals. (I suspect the other 30% are the tourists.) As I was contemplating this observation, I noticed that the pedestrian traffic signals in this particular area did not have the standard images for "walk" as in other parts of the city. Instead, they had been modified to represent various lifestyles. (I pointed this out to my parents, who hadn't realized what the symbols meant.)

We continued on down the road toward Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately, we were there on an off day, so we wouldn't be able to watch the changing of the guard. We could at least see the shiny gates, though.

From there, we turned and headed toward more landmarks, such as Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. We crossed Westminster Bridge, from which we had a panoramic view of the city. I thought there were a lot of bridges here in San Francisco for traversing the bay, but London definitely has us beat in the bridge department. As we moseyed along the Queen's Walk, we kept track of our progress by how many bridges we passed. After seeing the outside of the Globe Theater, we went back via the Millenium Bridge, from which we could see still other bridges farther down the way.

We walked back toward Trafalgar Square and stopped in at the National Gallery to view some art. We followed that up with some shopping at Harrod's. The store was certainly large; it was easy to become disoriented. We asked for directions to the escalator, and the staff person advised that we should take the "Egyptian" escalator, because it was the best one. We were perplexed by that description...until we followed her directions and found it. The escalator was located in its own little connecting hall, and the entire chamber from top to bottom had been sculpted to look like something out of a pyramid. There were carvings and statues on every surface. I thought about taking a picture, but there was just no way to capture it in a single shot.

By the time we finished shopping, it was starting to get dark. We returned to Foyle's for supper (and more wi-fi), then went back to our hotel for the night. In the morning we would be leaving on a plane to Germany.
Sunday, June 20
We started the morning by going to IHOP for Father's Day breakfast...and so did everyone else, it seemed. We had a half hour wait just to be seated. Once we had eaten, [livejournal.com profile] megory and I let Dad have some time to himself while we occupied ourselves with shopping. We began in the Hilton Village shops, which kept us busy for a while. One of the swimwear shops even had a bikini that was the perfect style/color combination for me...but it was priced at $75 for each piece. I couldn't justify paying that much for something I only wear once every five years or so.

Eventually we made our way out of the resort and headed down Kalakaua Avenue, which is lined with shops of all kinds. We found a couple things to buy at the Waikiki Shopping Plaza. I bought a lovely quilt and pillow cover set. It was apparently too early in the day for most shoppers, since we practically had the whole place to ourselves. Next we went across the street to have pizza for lunch. We continued on through a flea market, where we admired many of the wares and made a few purchases. I was tempted by this sign, but I don't have a car, so it would have been silly to buy it.

After that we went through the International Market Place. There were loads of interesting things there, and we both spent more money. Just as we were almost finished, we received a call that one of my brothers and his friends had arrived at their hotel, so we walked over to meet up with them. They all had plans to get up early the next day and take a package tour, so we wouldn't see them again for a while.

Monday, June 21
We borrowed my uncle's car and took one of my brother's friends with us for a drive. We stopped at the Pali Lookout, which has a view that can take one's breath away. From there we went to Kailua and stopped to eat at a cozy Thai restaurant. After we drove back and returned the car, we figured out how to use the bus to get to the Waikiki Aquarium, which was near the official wedding hotel. We waited there until my third brother and his wife arrived and then took them out for drinks at a place a few blocks away. We managed to arrive in the middle of happy hour, so we all sat around a table, called some friends to meet us there, and had various drinks and snacks while gazing out at the ocean. We discovered a tasty concoction called a Lava Flow. Even the guys at the table were ordering them...

I went with [livejournal.com profile] megory for a bit more shopping, and we checked out a swimwear shop where I was able to find a suit I liked at a reasonable price. (Actually, the shopkeeper let me mix-and-match two different suits to get what I wanted.) I was all set for the party.

Tuesday, June 22
My brother and his girlfriend invited us to go to the zoo with them, so we joined them for a casual walk from their hotel. On the way, we pointed out various (shopping) spots of interest. We also happened across a couple of guys with a flock of macaws that they let us pose with for pictures, which was an unexpected treat.

The zoo itself, when we got there, was small compared to others I've seen, but it did have some nice displays. In particular, the napping lemurs were adorable. There were also some toys to keep the "kids" amused.

We were all picked up and taken to the bride's parents' house for the meet-and-greet party. They live on the side of a mountain, so their house has an amazing view of the ocean. They also have a salt water swimming pool decorated with a dolphin mosaic. Their garden in the back, although steep, is filled with numerous brightly colored plants and flowers.

The party went quite well. I was asked to make something with potatoes, so I threw together a cheesy potato casserole. It took a while to finish baking, so the party was well underway by the time it was done. I took my serving, then I changed into my hard-won bathing suit and spent some time in the pool. I was told later that fights nearly broke out over the last helpings.

Wednesday, June 23
My dad said he wanted to go swimming, so various friends came over to do that with him. I chose to use the morning to do some last-minute shopping, as I had several souvenirs left to buy. I did make some progress on my shopping list, but I had only covered two of the three floors at Ala Moana when I was called back to attend a pre-rehearsal lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. They don't kid around with their portions, that's for certain.

After lunch we all browsed through the shops at King's Village before we headed to the aquarium area for the rehearsal. It took longer to get everyone assembled than to go through the motions of the ceremony. Everyone then piled into cars and went to Chinatown for the rehearsal dinner.

Thursday, June 24
The day of the wedding had finally arrived...which meant it was time for absolute last minute shopping. I covered the final floor at Ala Moana, where I found a couple of nice shops and bought my last souvenir.

We got all dressed up and went to the meeting place at the wedding hotel. The groom and his men gathered for a photo shoot...or were they just playing around?

The wedding itself was held at Waimanalo Beach. It was a beautiful day, though the wind was blowing something fierce. I didn't get any pictures of the ceremony, but I'm sure plenty of other people did. The newlyweds stuck around for pictures and hugs.

The wedding reception was held at the Waikiki Aquarium, which we had all to ourselves. I took a few minutes to walk through and see the exhibits before the meal began. When the sun started to go down, everyone hopped up and rushed over to the ocean side while the newlyweds posed again for more pictures. It was such a romantic setting, even my parents got in on the smoochie action.

After the dinner and dancing, we returned to our hotel room to finish packing. We had an early flight, so we had to leave before dawn the next morning.

That concludes my Hawaii Vacation 2010!
Wednesday, June 16
We checked out of our room in the morning and went to Kailua-Kona for some sightseeing. We happened to park right by a town market, so we walked among the stalls and picked up some fresh fruit. After that we meandered down the main street. We stopped in a gallery called Pacific Fine Art that had a lot of spectacular paintings. While [livejournal.com profile] megory chatted with an artist painting in the back of the gallery, I admired this painting by artist Jia Lu. (If I owned a house where I could display it, I probably would have bought it.) Next we went on a tour of Hulihe'e Palace, where members of the Hawaiian royal family used to live.

After leaving Kailua-Kona, we drove across the north side of the island, stopping for lunch in Waimea. Waimea is in the middle of ranch country, so cowboy themed items are everywhere. We ate at a place called Village Burger at the Parker Ranch Center, where they served "mushroom burgers" made of mushrooms pressed into a patty shape, then breaded and fried. Painted on the shop wall was a list of all the farms from which they obtained their ingredients and the distance to each farm, most of which were within five miles.

Once we got to the east coast, we stopped at Waipio Lookout to gaze at the valley below. We continued down the coast, past several gulches, and stopped again to see Akaka Falls. This spectacular falls is part of a lush, tropical state park. It was mentioned that walking through the plants in the park was like stepping into the movie Avatar. When we returned to the car, we got a little more nature than we bargained for when we caught sight of a pair of mating mongooses.

We continued on into Hilo, where we checked into the Seaside Hotel for the night. Our room was unfortunately situated facing the pool, which meant we heard every shriek of the children swimming. Even after the pool closed, people would sit around in the pool courtyard to talk on their cell phones, so it wasn't exactly quiet. On the bright side, the hotel was at least conveniently located.

Thursday, June 17
[livejournal.com profile] megory roused us out of bed early in the morning and hurried us to Coconut Island to watch the sunrise. While the view in the east was spectacular, the show later wasn't bad either. If you turn around and face west toward Mauna Kea (in this shot, the observatory at the top is just visible as tiny white dots), you eventually get to see the entire mountain turn pink from reflected sunlight.

After getting our fill of the pink mountain, we went for a stroll through the Liliuokalani Gardens, which are designed in the Japanese style. It appeared to be a popular spot for people out on a morning walk. After we finished touring the gardens, we were treated to a lovely double rainbow. (The second rainbow, with colors reversed, is just visible at the horizon to the right of the main rainbow.) We went back to our hotel for breakfast in the cafe, where I was impressed by the coconut syrup. If only it weren't so heavy--and liquid, therefore impossible to bring in carryon luggage--I would have bought some.

Next we went to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, where we saw scads of beautiful tropical plants. We also admired Onomea Falls. The entrance fee is expensive, but it is well worth it.

When we finished touring the garden, we headed back to Hilo and boarded our plane to Honolulu. My uncle picked us up there and took us to Kailua, where we purchased some snacks at the local farmer's market. One of our discoveries was sea asparagus, which has an interesting flavor because it is naturally salty. After we ate, my uncle drove us back to the city, where we checked in at our hotel. My parents tried to put some valuables in the room safe, but it was locked with no key in evidence.

Friday, June 18
In the morning, we set out to get acquainted with Waikiki. About a block from the hotel, we came across the first (of many) shops selling gorgeous Hawaiian clothes. Both [livejournal.com profile] megory and I bought dresses, though my dad adamantly refused to get any Hawaiian shirts. We continued walking around, admiring the flowering trees and scouting out places where other family members would be staying. The whole crew would be coming in a few days to celebrate my youngest brother's wedding. We returned in time to be picked up by the parents of the bride, who took us on a tour of the locations where the wedding and rehearsal would be held. They also showed us around their home, where they would be holding a meet-and-greet party once everyone arrived. After we returned, we met up with my aunt staying at a hotel down the block and went out to watch the weekly fireworks display put on by the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort next door.

Saturday, June 19
I hooked my computer up to the hotel's internet and made use of a few spare moments to post a quick update. As I was doing so, I was distracted by some noises coming from the street outside. We all went to the balcony outside our room to look, and saw that the city's Pride Parade was just going past.

[livejournal.com profile] megory and I set out for the nearby Ala Moana Shopping Center. We browsed through Shirokiya, one of the shopping center's department stores that contains Japanese merchandise, including a branch of Book Off. While there, we met up with my aunt again and spent some time examining the clothing in Macy's. I wanted to get a new swimsuit to wear at the meet-and-greet, but it was hard to find something in the style that I like that is the right color. Plus, most of the suits were around $75 on sale.

We all headed out together to join up with my dad and uncle, who had picked up my brother (the groom) at the airport. We had a dim sum lunch and took a brief tour of Chinatown to see the restaurant where the rehearsal dinner would be held. Afterward, we turned our hotel room over to my brother, while we checked in to a room arranged for us by my uncle at the Grand Waikikian, part of the Hilton Village. My parents were teased mercilessly about the bathtub in the bedroom. The Hilton Village is a huge complex containing numerous shops and restaurants. It even has its own private lagoon. And, as if that weren't enough, it also has penguins.

We later found out from my brother that he went to the hotel manager and got a key to the safe in his room (formerly our room). When he opened the safe, he discovered it contained two bullets. Hmm...
Monday, June 14
We got up bright and early, which was quite easy to do with a three hour time difference, and headed back to the airport to take an inter-island flight to the Big Island. We landed in Hilo, where we stopped for lunch before continuing on toward the small village of Volcano. On the way, we paused to browse at the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens, where they have flowers of all shapes and colors. They even have a chocolate-scented orchid, which was quite difficult to resist. We also stopped for a tasting at the Volcano Winery. They have an interesting wine (actually mead) made from the honey of macadamia nut blossoms. In addition, they have the same wine in which tea leaves have been steeped, giving it a unique flavor. My favorite was their Volcano Blush, though I have to say I like the wines I buy here in California better.

At around 3pm we went to our inn and attempted to check in. Strangely, the place was vacant. We tried ringing the doorbell and knocking on the office door, but no one answered. A sign said that the place had a "self check-in" policy, but the doors were all locked, so we had no way to do anything to check ourselves in. We called the number for the owner, but all we got was voice mail. With no other options, we left to go sightseeing at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The top of Mount Kilauea is at an elevation of about 4000 feet, so our ears popped several times along the way there. Not much volcanic activity was going on at the time, but there was a lot of steam emerging from fissures in the ground, plus it was raining lightly. With all the water droplets in the air, we were treated to a nice rainbow. During the day, all that can bee seen at the main crater is a huge plume of steam. We eventually went back later that night, after it had gotten dark. The steam is lit up from the lava below and it's possible to see a red glow.

When we finished at the park, it was about 5pm, but there had been no response from Aloha Place, which was still locked up tight. We kept leaving voice mail messages and went out in search of a place to eat. Finally, while we were having a quick meal at a cafe in Volcano Village, the owner called us back at 6pm to let us know she was on her way and should arrive in an hour. She gave us the key code to enter the inn common area, where we waited until she arrived. Apparently tourism has been so bad the past year that she had to get a full time job in another city. Ordinarily she prints out the registration information and leaves it by the office door for people to check in to their rooms, but she had been in a hurry that morning and left while our papers were still in her printer. We were assigned the Paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) room, which was decorated with horses everywhere, including stuffed horses, horse slippers, books about horses, and even horse bedsheets on one of the beds. It would have been much more enjoyable, if it hadn't been for all the stress of not being able to check in earlier. The inn even has a very nicely maintained garden that we strolled through in the morning before leaving.

Tuesday, June 15
We returned to the volcano, where we drove down Chain of Craters Road, which is flanked on both sides by bare lava extending to the horizon. We followed the road down to the ocean, again ears popping all the way. The road ends at an impressive stone arch. On our way back up, we stopped to wander through the Thurston Lava Tube.

Having gotten our fill of Volcano, we headed down the southern coast. We took a side trip off the highway to visit a black sand beach, where we were able to see some sea turtles. I was so intent on bending over to take pictures of all the little creatures crawling and living among the rocks that I didn't notice I was bending the credit card I had stuck in my pocket. Fortunately for me, it didn't bend far enough to break, and it turned out to be usable without too much trouble, though it did cause comment whenever I needed to buy something.

We stopped for lunch at the Punalu'u Bake Shop, which specializes in sweet bread. All was going well until we sat down to eat. My dad was halfway through his order when [livejournal.com profile] megory checked her bun and saw that they had been served real beef burgers instead of vegetarian burgers as they had requested. The lady at the register apparently hadn't been able to hear the order correctly due to the loud music playing in the shop. She exchanged the order, but my dad was still upset that he had already been eating his without realizing.

We eventually made our way to the Holua Resort at the southern end of Kailua-Kona, where we were able to check in without mishap. The room was spacious and included both a kitchen and a washer/dryer. The view from the balcony was lovely. If I ever go there again, I would definitely pick the same place. We did a bit of shopping nearby, where I bought a nice pair of sandals to wear to my brother's wedding. That night we met a friend of [livejournal.com profile] megory's to watch the sunset from her balcony. After the sun went down, we went out to eat at a Thai restaurant. The food was good, but what I liked best were the dolphin salt and pepper shakers.
Now that I have a couple days to myself, I can finally get caught up on my trip reports. I'll back up to the very beginning of June, while my parents were visiting me. Most of the time, they travelled around the Bay Area on their own because I had to work, but occasionally I could go with them.

On June 1, we scheduled an afternoon tour using an online package. This is something I had never done before, since I have wonderful friends who have taken me around to see the sights. Anyway, we took the Caltrain into the city, which was another first for me, as I have only ever used it to travel south. The tour company had a bus waiting to pick us up at the train station after lunch, and we were on our way. We drove across the Golden Gate Bridge (yes, that is fog, not smog) to see the redwood trees at Muir Woods. We spent about an hour walking around the trails and enjoying the various flora and fauna. In particular, just as we were returning to the beginning of the trail, we saw a doe grazing in plain view. She had two fawns nearby, but they were hard to spot amid all the ferns. On the way back from the woods, the tour bus stopped in Sausalito. We wandered among the shops there, where we saw some interesting Dr. Seuss art for sale at a gallery, though for far more money than any of us could afford.

On June 2, we went back into the city to visit the Exploratorium. (Okay, I admit, the photo isn't of the building itself, but this one is much more impressive.) We spent several hours there and still didn't see all of the exhibits. [livejournal.com profile] megory was particularly interested in the machine that measured reaction time. After that we walked along the shore and through the Fort Mason park until we got to Ghirardelli Square. It took a while to find a reasonable non-seafood restaurant where vegetarians could eat lunch. We wound up trying the Buena Vista Cafe, which is apparently famous for its Irish Coffee.

Aside from that, we mainly spent our time with marathons of various series that my parents hadn't seen before. This included the third season of Due South, of which I only caught a handful of episodes when it originally aired. Somehow, I had the impression I had watched more than I actually did; a number of the plot developments took me by surprise. The day before we left, I took photos of my plants, in case any of them failed to survive. Here are my indoor plants. (Front, l-r: kaffir lime tree, curry tree, willow bay laurel tree, curry tree. Rear, l-r: lavender, thyme, rosemary, alpine strawberries, stevia.) Outside are the balcony plants. (Railing boxes, f-b: strawberries, lettuce, pineapple mint. White windowboxes f-b: Thai basil, cinnamon basil, sweet basil, scarlet runner beans, golden pineapple sage, maraschino cherry salvia. Railing-side pot: lemongrass. Tiered planter: mint, Thai hot peppers, lemon verbeena, marjoram, oregano, chives, and last year's parsley. Front pot: Meiwa kumquat tree and chocolate mint. Black grow bag: serrano pepper. Rear pot: Nagami kumquat tree, mint rose scented geranium, cinnamon scented geranium, attar of rose scented geranium.)

Sunday morning on June 13, we did our final packing. My building manager said that he would water my plants while I was gone, which was quite kind of him. We headed to the airport that afternoon and headed to Hawaii, arriving at Honolulu Airport and staying at a nearby hotel that my uncle who lives in Hawaii arranged for us.
...Though perhaps not in Mendocino.

This past weekend I was fortunate in having a schedule that provided me with four days off in a row. I made plans to travel with [livejournal.com profile] mangaroo to Mendocino. First I took the BART to Berkeley, but I must have been out of practice, because I got off at the wrong stop for my connection and had to wait 20 minutes for the next train. We started off under gray skies, and I hoped that the rain would hold off until evening as the online weather forecast predicted, but we ran into scattered showers along the way. The trip went just fine...for the first few minutes. Eventually, however, we realized that we had traveled much farther in search of our exit from the interstate than predicted on our written directions, and we were well on our way to Sacramento. We turned around and managed to get back on the correct route, only moderately delayed.

The drive itself was mostly uneventful. However, once we turned onto highway 128, we were confronted with a series of sharp curves and hairpin turns. It was at least amusing to watch the squiggles in the road on the image presented by [livejournal.com profile] mangaroo's Garmin, which made it look more than ever like the screen of a video game.

We arrived shortly before our scheduled check-in time, so we ventured onward in search of a place to eat. We wound up at a pizza place in nearby Ft. Bragg, where the restaurant had a large television tuned to the History channel. It was playing a program explaining (among other things) the causes of rainbows. That seemed rather appropriate.

After we finished eating, we returned to the Auberge Mendocino, where we checked into the Chardonnay Room. The room came with a lovely ocean view. Though the power lines were somewhat distracting, the occasional jay or robin would roost on them to add a spot of color to the scene (except when [livejournal.com profile] mangaroo was looking). After dropping off our things, we followed the atmospheric trail out behind the inn all the way to where it overlooked the ocean. After we gazed at the waves for a while, we returned to our room and crashed for the night. (Well...with a bit of Warcraft thrown in, thanks to the inn's functional--if somewhat shaky--wireless internet.)

The next morning, we had a lovely (if somewhat late) breakfast with some of the other guests. I'm accustomed to eating at ~5:30am, so waiting until past eight was a challenge. It would have been nice if the inn had a selection of snacky items set out earlier, as they did at the place we stayed in Monterey, but at least the meal was filling when it came.

We set out into the pouring rain and paid a visit to the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. The lady in charge of admissions gave us a discount just for showing up on such a chilly, wet day. We were the only guests there, so we had the place all to ourselves. We wandered around, admiring the various plants protected from the predations of wild deer. It was interesting to see that there was a special area set aside for an organic garden, which had a sign indicating that guests could harvest and eat the various items if they pleased. I imagine the place is popular during strawberry season, as strawberry plants edged all the rows.

We made it down to the coast for another view of the ocean, though by that time the wind had picked up and we were both drenched despite our umbrellas. We meandered back out, only getting slightly lost on the garden paths.

Our next stop was the nearby town of Ft. Bragg, where I had hoped to do some shopping. Unfortunately, most of the stores were closed on Sunday, so there wasn't much to browse. We stopped in at the Living Light Cafe, which is apparently famous for its raw vegan cuisine cooking classes. I had read reviews of several books on the topic and was hoping that the cafe would feature some of the more interesting recipes, but they only had sandwiches, salads, and smoothies. Though some of the cooking supplies in the shop connected with the cafe were tempting, I didn't really feel like paying $9 for an unremarkable sandwich, so we went elsewhere for food. We ended up dining at Eggheads Restaurant, a Wizard of Oz-themed place that was small but had a lovely selection. I had pumpkin waffles that turned out to be excellent.

After lunch, [livejournal.com profile] mangaroo dropped me off in Mendocino for a couple of hours. It's a cozy little place that, I will admit, I enjoyed much more after I located the public restroom. Some places were closed on Sunday, but most shops were open. There wasn't a huge selection of things to do, but I did spend some time browsing in a yarn shop and a bookstore, and I splurged on some items at the Mendocino Chocolate Company. After a while the rain stopped, and I could pause to enjoy the scenery.

Later that evening we went out for supper at the Ravens' Restaurant, a vegetarian establishment. We had a leisurely meal in beautiful surroundings. When we were finished eating, I wound up purchasing their cookbook. Some of the recipes in it look quite inventive, though I have to say some of the more texty bits are over the top. (The restaurant is located on a ley line? Really?)

That pretty much concluded our adventure. We had one more breakfast at the inn the next morning, with the table all to ourselves, then packed up for the return trip. It continued to rain for some of the journey, though it did clear up after a while, with actual blue peeking through the cloud layer on occasion. [livejournal.com profile] mangaroo drove me all the way back to my apartment, going over the Golden Gate Bridge as we entered San Francisco. That was a thrilling view. Then I just had to make sure I was ready to return to work in the morning...

Edited to add: Link to [livejournal.com profile] mangaroo's trip report.
This weekend I happened to have three days off in a row, so [livejournal.com profile] mangaroo and I made plans to go to Monterey for a whale watching trip. She came and picked me up at my place and drove us two hours south to Monteray, where our first adventure was finding a place to park. Both the Google directions she had printed out and her Garmin directed her to a customer-only parking lot for a restaurant, and we had to stop for directions to public parking. Once we had found a parking spot, we wandered around a small art and craft fair, where we each bought some scented soap that caught our fancy. We then wandered Fisherman's Wharf looking for a place to eat. As we mentioned to each other that it was the wrong place for a vegetarian and a person allergic to shrimp, one of the shopkeepers overheard and brought out a vegetarian menu for us to peruse. The prices were expensive, but it was pretty much the same everywhere, so we wound up staying there for lunch.

After lunch we set out on our three-hour cruise in search of whales. The weather was nice, despite the ominous rain forecast that had worried us earlier in the week. However, this did not prevent several of the boat passengers from losing their lunches over the side, and that's not a sight conducive to keeping one's own stomach settled. The whales themselves were not very showy; they only popped up to the surface for a few seconds before diving deeper underwater. I did manage to see one flip its tail out of the water, though it was too fast for me to get a picture with my camera, particularly with the boat bobbing and other passengers standing in the way. This video was the best I was able to manage, and it should give you an idea of how difficult it was to see anything. After attempting a few shots, I wound up putting my head down to avoid the glare of the sun and napping until we got back to the wharf.

At least the sea lions and sea birds were out in full force, providing us with quite a bit of entertainment. On our way back to the car, we stopped at a shop that drew in customers with a display of pirates and bunnies. We thought it was the perfect store for [livejournal.com profile] wednesday_10_00.

We drove on to the nearby town of Pacific Grove, where we checked in at our bed & breakfast, The Centrella Inn. The inn itself was nice enough, though sadly their wireless internet signal was too weak to provide a useful connection. We both got up early Sunday morning, and the hosts of the inn set up breakfast ahead of schedule just for us. We sat by a window facing the garden, where we watched blue birds lured by tempting peanuts. We went for a morning stroll along the ocean, where we crossed paths with many pet owners walking their dogs. On our way back, we walked down the town's main street, where we gazed at kitties and bunnies through a pet store window.

After we checked out of the inn, we drove down to Cannery Row, where we had another adventure locating parking. (There are no left turns in Monterey!) We got to the aquarium soon after it opened and leisurely explored the exhibits. I snapped many photos, particularly of Kit the baby sea otter. Once we left the aquarium, we had lunch at a lovely Thai place across the street. Then we browsed the Cannery Row shops, where I spent way more money than I should have. (But...but...sea otter socks! How could I refuse?)

We drove back safely, and I was tasked with planning an activity we can do for my next long weekend coming up in April. The stipulation is that it must be vomit-free.
Shopping? What shopping? )

That concludes my report for Comiket 2009.

Edit: Links to my companions' trip reports below...
[livejournal.com profile] wednesday_10_00's report: No manga, no life
[livejournal.com profile] sara_tanaquil's report: Trip report (briefly released from friend-lock)
It has certainly been a busy couple of weeks. I met my parents at the airport after work on May 22, stumbling across them by chance just as I was turning on my cell phone to call them. In the morning, we started with an early breakfast at a nearby restaurant, then we went to San Francisco to check out the farmers' market at the Ferry Building. I picked up several things there, including a pound of biwa for making tarts. From there, we walked along the edge of the water until we came to Pier 39, where we browsed the shops and watched the sea lions hanging out. We walked back through North Beach and Chinatown.

On Sunday morning, we headed back to the city, starting off in the Mission district, where we walked around the neighborhood admiring the murals. Then we lined up to watch the Carnaval parade. I hadn't realized the parade would last three full hours. I filled up my camera with pictures and movies, though most of the best shots were ruined because the press photographers were standing in the street directly in front of the performers. A lot of my shots mostly show photographers' backs. My camera battery gave up at around the two hour mark. After the parade, we browsed through the various vendor stalls. We followed that up with a stop at Japantown for an okonomiyaki dinner and a brief visit to Borders.

I had to work during the week, so my parents amused themselves doing their own sightseeing. They went a number of places, including Golden Gate Park. Meanwhile, I started my ten-week cargo training module, beginning with the post office international mail room on Tuesday. The mail is very different from the passenger baggage environment. The pace is more relaxed, since you're not dealing with cranky passengers in a hurry to catch connecting flights, but on the other hand it seems that people are willing to send far more contraband through the mail than they risk carrying through the airport. We not only have to watch out for agricultural commodities such as uncertified seeds or sausages, we also have to recognize dutiable goods, counterfeit merchandise, and various drugs of concern. All that, while being on the alert for radioactive packages.

On Tuesday night, I took my parents out to watch Wicked. That was a lot of fun. And of course it got the songs stuck in my head again. On Wednesday I managed to take some time during my lunch break to greet [livejournal.com profile] gnine and [livejournal.com profile] xparrot as they made a connection through the airport on their way back from Japan.

Saturday the 30th, we went back to the Mission district, where we walked up the street and checked out some of the small markets. We continued on through the Castro area, finally ending up at Haight-Ashbury, where we stopped for lunch at a small Indian restaurant. The next day we took my dad to catch his early morning flight at the airport...then got stranded when we tried to take the BART back to Millbrae, not realizing that the earliest train on Sundays doesn't come until 9am.

On Monday I started working in air cargo, though the beginning has been a bit rocky because my supervisor is just starting out and hasn't gotten the training module into a routine yet. For example, he was supposed to give me and another trainee a safety orientation on Monday, but due to one delay or another, he wound up not giving it the entire week. I was supposed to go out shadowing various customs teams, but none of that has been arranged. I did spend two days at the Plant Inspection Station watching slide shows about various plant pests that we are trying to prevent from coming into the country (or at least California). The cargo inspectors have a great deal of responsibility. I had to condemn a large shipment of fresh flowers worth thousands of dollars on Friday because of finding one harmful snail.

This weekend, [livejournal.com profile] mangaroo came over to join me as I showed [livejournal.com profile] megory an Avatar marathon. We actually managed to make it all the way through the series by Sunday evening. That was quite thrilling.

We'll see what the rest of this week brings.
I've had a pretty busy couple of weeks. To start off, when I went out on my day at the farmer's market, I bought a large Indian food cookbook. I decided to try cooking a number of the recipes in it, starting with making my own cheese. That actually went rather well, with the exception of the slight mishap when the gallon of water I was using as a weight slipped and fell on the floor, spilling water everywhere. The cheese came out okay once I got the weight to stay in place.

I had to get a number of Indian spices for the recipes, so I tracked down a small Indian grocery in a neighboring town. I filled my basket full of goodies and took them to the register, where the man at the counter stared at me in shock.

Man: You know how to cook?!

Me: ...Yes...I like cooking...

Man: Where did you learn?!

Me: ...From a cookbook...?

I wondered if I really looked so inept that it was unbelievable that I could cook. It took a few moments for it to register that he meant "cook Indian food."

On Saturday, I took a trip to San Francisco. I started by having lunch in Japantown, where I browsed a bit at Kinokuniya. From there I went to see Wicked at the Orpheum downtown. I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would after listening to the soundtrack...although I was distracted through most of the performance by making Avatar music videos to all the songs in my head. I would have bought some of the merchandise afterward, but sadly the items I wanted were more than double the price I was willing to pay.

After that, my next project was to start an herb garden on my balcony. I purchased a hexagonal tiered planter online. The challenge was putting it together, since the instructions were in German, and none of the wooden slats were labelled. I somehow managed.

Before I had the chance to find something to cover the large drainage hole in the bottom so that I could fill it with soil, it started storming here. It's been gusting wind and pouring rain for the past couple days, and the rain is expected to continue through tomorrow. I think the weather is causing them to re-route planes over my town from the airport, because I've heard more of them flying overhead in the past three days than I have in the 2+ months since I moved in.

Another task that has proven somewhat difficult has been locating a craft store where I can buy yarn for crochet projects. I found one online located in the next town, so I used my day off on Monday to check it out. I was flabbergasted to find that it is closed on Mondays. (The shop hours weren't listed on its web site.) I've had that happen in Japan, but I never expected it here. I tried going three towns north to Colma, the location of the nearest Joann's. Sadly, it is a small branch store and doesn't have much of a selection. It seems I'm back to ordering online.

My tae kwon do classes are proceeding well. I got a pair of special shoes at my last lesson that I can wear on the mat. That way I can stop constantly worrying about slipping on sweat, which has been making it difficult for me up until now.
This past week at work I spent most of my time attending a course on anti-terrorism. Most of it was geared toward the regular customs officers, and they really take that stuff seriously. By the time passengers make it to my area in agriculture secondary, they've already gone past at least two customs officers, and possibly more if they had to stop at immigration secondary. I also learned how to input records of our searches and seizures into the computer system.

I finished my three trial tae kwon do lessons and signed up for a year at two lessons per week. It was expensive compared to, say, a gym membership, but the students are getting one-on-one or one-on-two attention from the instructors, who are doing hard physical labor. It does take away from my warcraft time, though.

Sadly, I was unable to arrange for my furniture to be delivered during a time I would actually be home on Friday, so I had to reschedule. The earliest time I could reserve for a date when I would be home all day was next Saturday, so I'll still be sitting on the floor until then.

The weather here has been sunny and in the mid-seventies all week. Yesterday I decided to take advantage of the fair weather to go sightseeing in downtown San Francisco. The first thing evident as I exited the BART station was that the streetcars were indeed quite common. There was even a special streetcar crossing sign designed for them.

I began by walking up to North Beach. On the way, I took a couple pictures for [livejournal.com profile] wednesday_10_00: one inspired by Flesh & Blood and the other by City of Glass. My first stop, just north of Chinatown (which I skirted but didn't really enter), was to view the Bill Weber Mural. It took me a few minutes to realize that the white flappy things suspended from wires in front of the building were books, not birds.

From there I walked up the street to the National Shrine of Saint Francis. This whole area is Italian, and the street is lined with cafes that have outdoor seating. In fact, it was a little tricky to walk down the sidewalk without tripping over the feet of the people sipping coffee at the rows of tables. I continued on to Washington Square, which is dominated at one end by the Saints Peter and Paul Church. There were a number of people in the park enjoying the day by practicing their dancing or tai chi.

Next I walked up--and I do mean up--the road to the Coit Tower. This walk is not for the faint of heart. Once there, I paid the five dollars for an elevator ride to the top, where I could gaze out at such sights as Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. The interior of the tower itself was not very impressive compared to, say, Tokyo Tower. It was all bare concrete, and very cramped. The elevator operator didn't even try to entertain us with facts about the tower, as I had expected he would.

After leaving the tower, I headed west along Lombard Street. There were a number of interesting examples of architecture along the way. Finally I reached the famous crooked section of the road. I was glad to be a pedestrian, I must say. I was going to head home after that, but I took a brief detour north to the Hyde Street Pier, because I was so close anyway. I didn't stay long, since by that time I had been walking for over four hours and was getting a bit tired, not to mention hungry. On my way back to the nearest station, I passed by San Francisco's decorative city hall.

Now I have to plan where to go the next time I have an opportunity for sightseeing...
As I mentioned earlier, I took several photos to go along with my holiday report, and I just got around to uploading them today.

First is a picture of sunrise over Animate on the morning of January 1st. ...Er, well, not exactly. You see, we had glorious plans of waking up early to watch the sunrise over Animate, and our hotel room windows were conveniently facing Animate. The catch is that Animate is actually WEST of the hotel. Thus, all we could see was the sunrise being reflected in the windows of the building next to Animate.

Close enough.

Japanese people traditionally go to a shrine on New Year's Day. This shrine visit is called hatsumoude, the first shrine visit of the year. We had thought about going to Tokyo's famous shrine for the occasion, though it would surely be packed with other people doing the same. As it happened, we were saved the trip, because Animate decorated its front door as an Otome Road Shrine. Hatsumoude and manga shopping at the same time--what could be better?

While we were wandering around Kyoto with [livejournal.com profile] gnine, we stumbled across a brand new parfait shop. Now, many Japanese restaurants will serve a few kinds of parfaits, usually five or so, and they have lovely displays of plastic models of their food in a showcase at the front of the restaurant. This parfait shop had a display as well. What set this shop apart was the sheer size of the selection. (Note that this photo only has one of the shop's two showcases.) The shop itself is huge, with multiple floors. They kept the heat blasting, presumably so the patrons wouldn't get too cold while eating ice cream, though this did cause the ice cream to melt fairly rapidly. We each ordered a different type of parfait so we could get a good sample. Here is a shot of three parfaits that we ordered.

Now for a Warcraft update, which I haven't done in a while. [livejournal.com profile] megory and I enjoyed the Feast of Winter Veil holiday in December by running various quests, making our mounts look like reindeer, and various other activities. Our characters have reached level 62 so far. Only 8 more levels to go! Meanwhile, my guild made several attempts at the major 25-person raid instances, but we couldn't get more than about 22 people online at the same time, so we weren't able to make much progress on that front. We have, however, been running the new 10-person raid instance Zul'Aman every week, and today I was there for our second successful kill of Zul'Jin (the final boss).
It has been extremely hot in Japan, as they keep telling us on the evening news. On Tuesday we decided to have an adventure on the lake by way of a cruise on the Michigan, a ship that makes a circuit of the southern tip of Lake Biwa several times a day. We went on the earliest listed time, hoping to beat the heat. The cruise includes live performances that encouraged audience participation, particularly from children. [livejournal.com profile] megory enjoyed herself by singing along with one of the bands.

Although the ship is named Michigan, the theme of it is straight from Mark Twain. The menu for the on-board restaurant, the Huckleberry Cafe, was quite loyal to this theme. As an example, here is its cocktail menu:
  • Mississippi Lullaby
  • Huck's Whim Cocktail
  • Tom's First Love
  • Friendship
  • Red Paddle

We were lucky to have taken the cruise when we did. It started raining toward the end of our cruise, and later in the day there was a huge downpour. Also, there were far more people lined up for the noon cruise. It would have been hard to find a seat.

Friday we went shopping at Lala Port, where we bought some new clothes. Ditto for Saturday. Sunday, for a change of pace, we bought clothes in Omihachiman, which is a town a couple stops north along the train line. We didn't really intend to buy that much, but the clothes were just too cute to pass up.

While in Omihachiman, we decided to catch a movie. The only one we found that we could watch and still catch a train back to Moriyama was Harry Potter, so we got tickets for that. While we waited for it to start, we wandered around the theater lobby, which had a Harry Potter purikura machine. You could have your picture taken in front of several scenes from one of the movies and then draw on the pictures.

Monday, [livejournal.com profile] megory packed up her suitcases and I contacted a delivery service to take them to the airport. Just about the time they were scheduled to arrive, she asked me, "So...you're going to pay the fee when they get here?"

Me: ...

<hastily checks purse>

Me: I'll just take a quick trip to the ATM.

<looks outside at thunderstorm>

Me: ...

Ordinarily I would have had enough, but due to our multiple shopping sprees, not to mention the pair of $18 movie tickets, I was a bit low. I actually did have enough, barely, but I got more out of the ATM just in case.

Other than that, we've amused ourselves with a lot of Warcraft, movie watching, and cooking. Tomorrow we're getting up bright and early to head off to the airport.
This past week has been mostly uneventful. Tuesday we mainly played on the computer. Wednesday and Thursday we had marathon sessions watching the DVDs [livejournal.com profile] megory brought. Friday was more Warcraft and shopping.

Saturday evening, however, we decided to go to a festival of lights being held in Nara. First we went to Kyoto Station, where we had to change trains anyway, and stopped for supper at an Italian restaurant to have pizza. Japanese pizza has the thinnest crust I've ever seen. It's practically a tortilla. One of the things people often crave after staying in Japan for a long time is "real" pizza.

While reading the restaurant's menu, which they provided in English (though I didn't really need it), we noticed a section for "Kyoto bland wine." Mixing up Rs and Ls is a running joke...but it's funny because it's true. If there is an R or L in a word, the Japanese will nearly always choose the wrong one, even on official signs that must have taken quite a bit of effort to produce. I can't help but wonder why they would go through the trouble and yet neglect to ask a proofreader or check the spelling in a dictionary. There are online dictionaries now... Another common problem they have is with articles, since there are none in Japanese. This sign in front of a restaurant illustrates how articles are often misused. They intended to say "the entrance is on the escalator side," but knowing when to use "a(n)" and when to use "the" is considered one of those mysteries that can never be fully understood.

Anyway, we took a train from there to Nara. In front of the station, there was a fountain where many people gathered to watch street performers. The one performing when we arrived was putting on a marionette show, accompanied by traditional Japanese music. As you can see in the background, girls were wearing yukata for the occasion.

We followed the crowd (generally the best way to navigate here) down a covered shopping path. There were so many interesting and beautiful things in the shops, it was hard to tear ourselves away to continue on, but somehow we managed.

There was a general route to follow to see the locations that had been decorated for the festival. Most of the spots were cultural heritage sites or museums. The Nara miniature deer were wandering about, completely unafraid of the crowds. In fact, the deer considered it yet another opportunity to beg for food.

There were many kinds of lights set up as decorations. Some were candles in white cups arranged in patterns on the grass or pavement. Some were candles in bamboo posts lining the walking paths. Some were even works of art.

We spent about two hours strolling around, seeing what we could, and trying not to get lost. We then made our way back, arriving at my apartment shortly before midnight.

Sunday I played more Warcraft. The various characters have been making good progress. The blood elf paladin I've been playing on [livejournal.com profile] megory's behalf has reached level 27. I was excited to win a new axe and bow for my hunter in Karazhan, and my shaman won a number of new items as well.
It's about time I got caught up on my posting.

Monday, we all got up bright and early and headed to Osaka. When we arrived, we were stunned by the noise of the cicadas (video file). Apparently, there are twice as many cicadas this year as last year, and Osaka in particular has them in abundance. We continued on through the deafening buzz to Osaka Castle, where [livejournal.com profile] megory tried on another suit of armor.

After that, we went to the Tsuruhashi area. It has a number of Korean shops, some selling beautiful traditional clothing, such as these dresses. We wandered through block after block of the covered market before we finally located a small okonomiyaki place for lunch.

Following lunch, we went to the Namba area to see the restaurant supply district. It's hard to restrain myself from buying everything in sight, the dishware is all so gorgeous and the cookware so convenient. From there, we walked on to Otaku Road, where I made some purchases, and [livejournal.com profile] megory tried some soft serve ice cream. They had all the standard flavors, plus such things as peanut, chestnut, canteloupe, Chinese annin, purple sweet potato, pineapple, banana, and caramel.

Tuesday we went to the north end of Lake Biwa to see Nagahama, which is famous for its stained glass and other glassware. I had intended to go to the castle first, but thanks to my extreme navigational impairment, we wound up headed the complete opposite direction. It turned out to be not such a bad thing after all, as we got to see a shrine and temple during our wanderings.

Nagahama, sadly, seemed poorly kept-up. The shrine had scum and trash floating in its pond, the department store bathrooms were filthy and smelly, and the castle park walls were overgrown with weeds. The shopping square, though, was very nicely decorated with stained glass posts. Many shops and restaurants were closed on Tuesday as their day off, so we didn't get to see everything that we might have if we'd come on a weekend, but we did get some nice deals on pretty dishware. We also dropped by the figure museum gift shop, though we didn't enter the museum itself.

Wednesday we spent getting Dad packed while we waited for the delivery of Harry Potter, which Amazon managed to send earlier than estimated.

Thursday we left early to take him to the airport. There were no complications, and we had time for a quick lunch before seeing him off. Friday, typhoon #5 was passing through to the west, so it was very windy. We decided to stay indoors, and I wound up mostly playing Warcraft. I'll probably do the same again today...
First, I'll start off with one thing I forgot to post last time. After we left Himeji castle, we came upon a store selling soft serve ice cream in many flavors. I bought a rose-flavored one, and it was pretty good. I can't imagine the miso-flavored one... >_<

Since I was unable to find Harry Potter available anywhere, I wound up ordering it from Amazon. Even they estimate they can't ship one until August 4th at the earliest.

On Thursday we hung out in Moriyama. We had lunch at the Olive Kitchen, the best restaurant in town for vegetarians. Then I took my parents on a tour of my school. We just happened to be there at the same time as the delegation from the Michigan sister city, so I was called upon to give a quick little introduction and speech.

Friday we mainly stayed in my apartment, cooking and playing on the computers. My dad began cleaning every nook and cranny he could find, scrubbing my stove, toaster, walls...you name it, he went at it with rags and bleach. The place is the cleanest it has ever been. (Well, except for the hobby room, which is still off limits.)

Saturday we took a trip to Shigaraki, which is a town in my prefecture famous for its pottery. First we had to take a JR train to Kusatsu, where I noted this sign announcing that JR has finally begun stocking its restrooms with toilet paper. (No soap yet, but one can always hope...)

In Kusatsu, we transferred to the Shigaraki Line. The interior of the train was decorated with ninja, for which a nearby town is famous. (Unfortunately, we didn't have time to visit Ninja Village. Perhaps I'll go there some other day.) The exterior was painted with tanuki, also called "racoon dog," which is practically the symbol of Shigaraki. It is a common sight for many shops and buildings in Japan to have a pottery tanuki statue next to the front door, and Shigaraki is where those statues are made. In fact, the first thing you see when you step out of Shigaraki Station is a giant tanuki statue. In addition to the tanuki, the shops in Shigaraki offer dishware as well as many other kinds of items of all different sizes.

While we strolled down the main street in Shigaraki, I happened upon this sign at a barber shop. When you take your baby there for its first haircut, the shop will make the baby's hair into a commemorative calligraphy brush. That seemed like an unusual and interesting service.

It just so happened that there was going to be a fire festival in Shigaraki that day at a small temple. We decided not to stick around for it, though, choosing instead to return to Moriyama for its summer festival.

Today we took it easy again, playing Warcraft and doing other things around the house.
Monday morning we headed out to Hikone to see the castle, which is celebrating its 400th year. We walked through the museum they set up showing the history of the castle. They had a number of hands-on things to get visitors interested, including a suit of armor that people can wear. ([livejournal.com profile] megory plans on making a huge blow-up of this picture to hang in her classroom to show students what will happen if they don't do their homework...) Another display allowed visitors to ride a plastic horse in front of a blue screen depicting scenes of the castle.

After seeing the museum, we walked through the garden and then stumbled up many many steps to the castle. [livejournal.com profile] megory took advantage of the convenient walking stick lending service at the gate.

Tuesday we went to Kyoto to visit Ginkakuji, one of the places my parents had not yet gone. I had been there years before, but there were a few changes I noticed. For one thing, they have a table set up with many different types of moss on display, showing which kinds are "valuable," "slightly annoying," or "very annoying." (They all just looked like moss to me...) Also, they changed the restroom. It used to be set up in front of a bamboo forest, with benches in front of the (open) doors. Now that area is used as seating for a small tea house, and the restroom is on the opposite side of the gift store.

From there we went on to Yasaka Shrine, where it was bustling with activity due to the Gion Festival. There were many people in traditional costumes, and there was a stage where various performances were being held. For example, there was a group playing traditional drums. [Note: This file plays perfectly fine when I open it with Media Player Classic, but it goes all wonky when I open it with Windows Media Player. I have no clue why.]

After that, we walked around the shopping district for a while. We tried to get Harry Potter at Kinokuniya, but they were sold out. We went back to the Gion area to watch the parade that was the main event for the day. We saw people in various costumes as well as a group setting up a mikoshi (portable shrine), but we didn't want to hang around another hour in the blazing sun until the main body of the parade got to us, so we went home.

Wednesday we went farther afield to see Himeji Castle, a two-hour train ride from Moriyama. (There was a large bookstore in Himeji Station with two whole aisles of English books...but they were also sold out of Harry Potter.) After spending the morning exploring the large castle, we went to Osaka Station. We had originally planned to see Osaka Castle, but it was getting late, plus it was crowded with both rush hour traffic and people coming for the fireworks festival that evening, so we just strolled around the underground shopping area for a while before heading home.

The plan is to take it easy and hang out in Moriyama for the next couple days.
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