Monthly Archives: March 2015

Tokyo 2015

Tokyo, holy crap, Tokyo. Whatever expectations we had of Tokyo and Japan before we arrive were completely shattered. No guide had prepared us for our experiences so far, let alone the first half hour in the country. We’ve been in Tokyo for about five days and will be traveling around the country for the next 15 to see the cherry blossoms bloom. Yes, we did travel a quarter of the way around the world to see cherry blossoms. Last year, we were lucky enough to see the cherry blossoms in Washington DC and we wanted to see the grandest cherry blossom bloom in the world ever since.

We noticed immediately that Japan is completely different than anything we’ve experienced before. It started with the eerie quiet soon after we left the airplane. Japan is an incredibly quiet place; Jacquelyn and I find ourselves whispering most of the time simply because it is so quiet everywhere – subways, streets, stores, our apartment, everywhere. The places that are normally loud elsewhere in the world are stunningly quiet. The place we are renting has neighbors surrounding us on all sides but one yet I haven’t heard a peep. It’s so quiet I’m not sure anyone lives next to our apartment.

The next thing we noticed was that Japanese people are incredible helpful in a surprisingly assertive way. About 30seconds after looking at a subway map a woman assertively asked us where we were going. Luckily, we were going the same way so she helped us along. Then, shortly after getting off the subway we realized we were lost so we took out the map and looked around. Another 30seconds later a random person assertively asked us where we were going and if she could help. It was shocking, it was super helpful, and it was awesome. We’ve never had this type of experience anywhere in the world.

The next thing we noticed is the Japanese people are incredibly considerate and kind. I actually pay attention to where I walk because people will stop to let me pass even if I am the one crossing their path and disrupting their walk. This is very different than pretty much everywhere in Asia where I used my size to plow through crowds of people because no one gets out of the way. Japan is very photography friendly – put a camera up and people will find a way to walk behind the camera, duck, or just wait. It’s crazy.

There’s formalities for everything. For example, money isn’t handed to a cashier but the customer puts the money on a tray for the cashier to pick up. There’s also a process for saying thanks, bowing, accepting thanks, and I have no clue how it works. We were walking around a park and I saw an elderly man fall (his shoe broke and he took a tumble) so I spent some time helping him up and getting him back to his handlers so he could be wheeled out of the park. Later, his wife found me and said a whole lot of Japanese to me ending in “arigato”, which is thanks, and bowed. Not knowing what to do, I said “arigato” and bowed back. She then repeated what she said and bowed again. Once again, not knowing what to do, I said “arigato” and bowed. This repeated FIVE TIMES before I figured out that this poor lady was trapped so long as I kept saying arigato and bowing back. I’m not a fast learner.

The cherry blossoms are stellar. They are all over the city and we’ve been to quite a few parks and even visited a park which lights them up at night. It’s beautiful. We’re very fortunate we arrived in time to see the cherry blossoms. We are really looking forward to seeing the cherry blossoms bloom as we travel across the country!

We are about 1/3rd of the way through our visit in Japan. We’re hoping the rest of the trip is going to be just as amazing as the first part.

I put photos into two albums: one that’s a short 12 photo summary of Tokyo. The other is all the photos from Tokyo which includes a TON of cherry blossom photos. Unless you really like cherry blossom photos, I’d skip it.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Small album below:

Large album below:


New Zealand 2015

New Zealand was OK. We ended up spending two weeks on the rainy southern island and a week on the north island where were introduced to Cyclone Pam. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the weather wasn’t great during the three weeks we were there and the good luck we’ve had with weather for the last six months ran out. We had planned on spending a great deal of time outdoors and hiking but were typically relegated to the indoors due to crap weather. The parts of New Zealand we did see were fairly pretty and we did manage to find some neat things to do.

New Zealand is an odd place: incomes aren’t all that high yet things are extremely expensive or exceptionally poor values, nothing is really that close together (we put 2,000mi on our rental) yet driving is pretty much the best way to get around, kiwi’s speak English yet they have really funny accents, everyone we met is OK with living in a very geologically active country where they could easily be wiped off the face of the earth, and there are tourists everywhere – about 3million people visit New Zealand, a country with a population of 4.4million. Tourist fatigue was very pervasive.

I think the word indifferent best describes our interactions with most New Zealanders. We haven’t run into this too often on our travels but it was surprising. If I were to guess it’s simply because of the sheer number of tourists that inundate their little islands – tourists are everywhere at all times. We had a pretty hilarious interaction with a New Zealand couple we met through Airbnb: they stated that they “really liked America and Americans” and when I asked why I found out it’s because “Americans are stuffy and so full of themselves”. I wasn’t sure how to take that.

Things, in general, were a pretty poor value. We can handle expensive, that’s not a problem. Poor value is different. Fuel was about $6/gal, food was insanely expensive and lodging, in most places, was the most we’ve ever paid. It was mind blowing to me that we stayed in a place that was $135/night and they didn’t provide WiFi or even change our sheets! We had arranged other tours and activities, like flightseeing, but ended up cancelling them because we were so underwhelmed with what we saw and experienced in New Zealand; we were done giving the country money.

There were three great experiences that really stood out. First was when we were in a lake and the bottom of the lake was heated by the thermal activity in the area. We sunk our feet into the sand and had a free spa day. I felt fabulous. Second was when we met an super cool family through Airbnb. They happily showed us around, brought us to their favorite fish and chips place and gave us some great advice on where to visit. The last awesome experience occurred on our last night in New Zealand when we met Jacquelyn’s relatives who moved to New Zealand from the US back in the early 80s; we had an awesome chat and learned about their unique perspective of New Zealand. It was great to end our time in New Zealand on a high note.

So, overall, I don’t think we’d rush back to New Zealand. We didn’t find any reason to travel half way around the world to see New Zealand; we’ve been other places that have similar landscapes that have better weather and better value for the money.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Australia 2015

Our expectations of Australia were blown out of the water, it was awesome. We didn’t see much, just visited between Brisbane and Sydney which is a similar distance as Boston and Washington DC. Australia is the first developed country we have visited in about three months and, unlike last time, it wasn’t quite as large of a shock for us visiting a developed nation. We had some amazing hosts, met some incredible people, did/ate/drank quintessential Australian things, and had some great walks in rainforests. There were only two downsides: all the poisonous / venomous plants and animals, and the absolutely craptacular internet and cell reception throughout the small part of country we visited.

We didn’t do a great deal of research on Australia before we showed up. Since the place was settled by convicts we thought, naturally, that it wouldn’t be that great. We thought it was filled with poisonous and deadly animals / plants, lots of dirt, dry, with tumbleweeds rolling around and an opera house near some water somewhere. Except for the deadly plants and animals, we were wrong. It was wonderful to get out into the country and have some peace and quiet far from other people after being in Asia / Indian subcontient for so long. We had forgotten what clean forests, clean air and quiet were. The national parks provided great walks and stunning views.

We were introduced to the amazing hospitality and generosity of Australians, it was next-level hospitality that I didn’t realize could exist. It’s like “Minnesota nice” except Australians are actually nice, mean what they say, and happily invited Jacquelyn and I into their lives! We were able to catch up with two families we met while traveling in Turkey and Vietnam and even stayed three days with one family; none of them batted an eye at meeting or hosting us. It was a deeply enriching experience for us because we were able to learn a lot about Australia and Australian culture. We learned a lot of “Australian”, definitely not English, but “Australian”, from the families. We were able to eat and do all sorts of Australian things: eat kangaroo, do the Tim Tam Slam, ate pavlova, learned how to play cricket from a very good teacher, watched a ruby game and learned how it was played, hiked in at least two different types of rainforest, drank all sorts of Australian beers and wines, called someone “mate” and learn some derogatory Australian phrases. It was great!

We had a few comical things happen to us pretty quickly in Australia: 1) We came across a venomous snake 15minutes into our very first hike. Jacquelyn hates snakes. That was the first of about eight hikes we had planned. We were off to a bad start. 2) the first meal we ordered were french fries and an apple crumble – so healthy! It’s easy to get fries and pastries in lesser developed countries but they are generally crap. It was nice to have good junk food! 3) We were missing Vietnamese food and found a Vietnamese restaurant that was recommended to us by some locals. Soon after we ate we both came down with the runs!

We had a rental car and it was the first time I drove in the last five months. I’m getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road since every vehicle I’ve driven, outside our first week of travel, has been on the wrong side of the road. Kangaroos ended up being quite the road hazard out in the bush so we took it slow. Thankfully, the Australians were some of the most polite drivers we’ve been around.

There is a lot to like about Australia but mostly we were shocked by how awesome the people where. It was no big deal for Australians to take a significant amount of time and money to teach us about their country and shows us the things they love. Truly a remarkable thing. With the awesome people and great scenery, I can understand why so many people want to move to Australia!

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.