Sunday, June 17, 2018

Happy Father's Day

My Dad immigrated to Hawaii with barely anything in his pocket.  But he was a very hard worker and held two jobs, working 7 days a week for many years so he could provide for his family. We were financially challenged most of our childhood, but as soon as we were able to afford it, our family enjoyed taking trips together.  Our vacation time was always a very special time for all of us.

Here is a photo of me and my dad on a family trip to the Big Island.


I'll always remember my Dad with great fondness, respect and love for all that he sacrificed to make our life better.  Thank you so much Dad!

Happy Father's Day!
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Monday, May 21, 2018

Tokyo Adventures: Using the Tokyo Subway Metro System

Although I'm not new to using public transportation during my travels, I felt a bit of anxiety when looking at Tokyo's subway map.  The Tokyo Metro Subway is an extensive system run by several different companies.  The cost of a ticket will depend on your departure and arrival stations and also if you will need to transfer from one line to another.  According to their website:
  • The alphabet letter represents the subway line name. 
  • In the subway route map, the station number is shown according to the subway line.
  • Station numbers are circled with a color that represents the subway line. 

After doing much research, I've decided that purchasing a Suica Card would be our best option. This is a prepaid smart card that will allow us to use most public transport (metro, trains, buses, monorail) in Japan.  The card is debited for every trip when we touch the card (upon entering and exiting) to the reader  This will save us a lot of time in trying to figure out the cost of our metro rides each time we use it.

There is a 500 yen (about $4.50 US) deposit to purchase this card which is good for use on the different metro lines.  When our balance runs low we can add more funds at designated machines that can be found at major JR East stations.  The Suica card can also be used at vending machines, for on board train purchases and at some designated convenient stores and restaurants.


How To Get to and from Narita Airport and Tokyo:  There are different options (ie., Train, Limousine Bus, City Bus) for getting from Narita Airport to central Tokyo Station.



After my research, it seems like we can take the Narita Express train (53 minutes) to Tokyo Station at a cost of approximately 3,000 yen ($27).   From Tokyo Station we can use the Metro Subway to get to our hotel.

Helpful Apps - Along with Google Maps, I've downloaded a few new apps that will help us to get around using the Tokyo Subway System.

Google Maps - I have created a Google Map for my trip which I have already included my lodging, must see sights, popular restaurants and shopping spots.  This will help us to find our must see sights while exploring around Tokyo.  This app can also be used to provide directions on how to get around using the metro system, but providing the name and location of the metro stops and the name of the metro lines I will be using as well as the approximate times for how long it will take us.


Tokyo Metro App

NaviTime App

Rome to Rio App

It's been a great learning experience writing my pre-trip blog posts and with all my airline tickets, lodging and day trip tours confirmed I think the only thing left to do is relax.  I think this is the earliest I've completed my trip preparations and plans.  I guess this happens when one is retired. Now all I have to do is relax and have a great summer until I leave for my trip

Or . . . I could start planning my 2019 plans. Ha Ha.
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JR East Japan Railway Company
JR East Japan Railway Company N'EX (Narita Express) Information

Tokyo Metro Subway 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Tokyo Adventures: But I don't eat Raw Fish

Although I do not eat raw fish, I'm a huge fan of Japanese cuisine and I'm looking forward to sampling many dishes (new and familiar) while visiting Tokyo.  In preparation for my trip, I've been doing research on what to eat, where to eat and what I need to know about the different food and about the types of restaurants in Tokyo. Some popular dishes include:

Shrimp Tempura with dipping sauce.
Tempura is a dish with pieces of lightly battered, deep fried seafood and/or vegetables that is typically served on top of rice or noodles.  Toppings may include:  Ebi (Shrimp/Prawn), Sakana (White Fish), Nasu (Egglplant), Knoko (Mushrooms), Kabocha (Pumpkin), Satsumaimo (Sweet Potato), Kakiage (mixed vegetables).  Specialized restaurants that serve tempura are called Tempura-ya.

Yakitori (Chicken)
Yakitori is a dish consisting of chicken skewered and then slowly grilled over charcoal fire and lathered in tare (a sweet soy sauce and mirin mix).  They are a meal in and of itself, but you will also find them as finger food being served in a izakaya or yatai. 



Chicken Katsu
Chicken Katsu (Tonkatsu for pork) is a popular dish which consists of breaded and deep fried pieces of chicken drizzled with sauce (made up of ketchup, worcestershire and soy sauce) and served with rice, miso soup and thinly sliced cabbage and pickles. Pickles or Tsukemono is traditionally served along side with miso soup for every meal.  It appeared back in the days before refrigeration when pickling was used to preserve food. They are made of all kinds of vegetables such as Japanese radish (daikon), cucumber, eggplant, carrot, cabbage, ginger, shallots and plum. 

Soba is a noodle dish that can be found throughout the city.  They are long and thin (much like spaghetti) and made of buckwheat flour.  Soba can be enjoyed, hot or cold, with or without soup.  The most popular ways to eat soba is chilled in a traditional bamboo basket with a flavored dipping sauce (zaru soba or seiro soba) and various toppings.  It can also be eaten as a hot noodle dish in broth known as kake soba.  


Udon
Udon are thicker Japanese noodles made of wheat flour that are served either hot or cold with various toppings such as fried tofu (kitsune udon), tempura (tempura udon) and mountain vegetables (sansei udon).  Ramen is a very popular dish with Chinese style noodles in a soup with various toppings.  Ramen is one of many popular dishes that were originally introduced from China. Somen are thin noodles made of wheat four like Udon and Soba.  Somen can be eaten cold and are considered a summer specialty. 


Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki is a popular pan fried food that consists of batter and cabbage.  Toppings may include a variety of ingredients (ie., meat, seafood, wasabi, cheese).  Monjayaki  (a kind of runny pancake dish similar to Okonomiyaki) include ingredients that are finely cut, mixed into a batter of flour and water, then cooked on a hot-plate at a high heat until ready to eat right off the grill.  In the neighborhood of Tsukshima (a man made island) located across the channel from the Tsukiji Fish Market, there are a number of restaurants serving this monjayaki dish. 

Takoyaki is a popular octopus dish.  It is prepared using a special Takoyaki pan where a flour and egg based batter is cooked with a filling of octopus slices, picked ginger and green onion. It is served with a Takoyaki sauce and topped with mayonnaise, green laver (anonori) and dried bonito (Katsubushi).  I'm not a huge fan of octopus but if my sister and BIL orders this dish I might ask for a sample taste. 

Chanko Nabe is a Nabe (hot pot) dish which is popular in winter months.  Chanko Nabe is also the traditional staple diet of sumo wrestlers and come in many varieties.  They can be found in specialty chanko nabe restaurants found around Ryogoku, the sumo district in Tokyo. 

Wagashi are traditional Japanese sweets.  The most common ingredient used is sweet asuki bean paste and is accompanied with a nice hot cup of green tea.  

Sushi refers to any dish that contains sushi rice (i.e., cooked white rice flavored with seasoned rice vinegar).  The various kinds include: nigirzushi (hand formed sushi), makizushi (rolled sushi), and chirashi (sushi rice topped with raw fish).  I like sushi (like Inari), but I don't eat the ones topped with raw fish. 

Sashimi is raw seafood which is accompanied with soy sauce and wasabi. Sadly, I have never been a fan of Sashimi and won't be eating it on this trip.  

Yakizakan is grilled fish like mackerel (saba), salmon (sake), mackerel pike (sanma), horse mackerel (aji), okhotsk atka mackerel (hokke), sea bream (tai) and sweet fish (ayu). 

Places to eat are categorized as follows:  There are apparently great eats that can be found in Shinjuku, Yurakucho and Asakusa.  In Shinjuku (Omoide Yokocho) there are small alleyways known as Piss Alley that are filled with tiny eateries serving yakitori, ramen, soba or kushiyaki.  Yurakucho is a lively area which can be found nestled beneath the train tracks around Yurakucho Station, known as Yurakucho Gado Shita (Below the guardrail) or Yakitori Street. Asakusa is a 80 meter long street lined with izakaya.  There are specialized Japanese Restaurants that specialize in just one type of food (i.e., Sushi-ya, Soba-ya, Ramen-ya, Tempura-ya, etc.).  And there are also general types that offer a broader range of dishes.  

Izakaya - Casual drinking pub like places (similar to tapas bars) that serve small dishes like yakitori and other finger foods. They can be found around train stations and shopping areas with dishes shared family style rather than individually.  Famiresu are casual family like restaurants such as Gusto, Royal Saizeria and Joyful.  Shokudo are casual restaurants that are small and serve food such as soba, udon, donburi and curry. They can be found near popular tourist sites.  Teishoku-y are restaurants that serve set menus that consists of a main dish like meat or fish, a bowl of rice, pickles and miso soup.  They are found in business areas and are popular lunch spots. Yatai are food stalls with outdoor seating. They can be found along busy streets.

Cheap meals can also be found in supermarkets, specialty restaurants  and convenience stores (ie., 7-Eleven stores).  Bentos are single portion take out meals that is served in a box container.  They consist of small portions of meat, vegetables, fish or pickles with rice and can come in both hot and cold varieties.  They are favorites sold at train stations (ekiben) and airports (soraben).

And let's not forget the street food places to sample.



Since there are so many restaurants to keep track of on my google map, I have downloaded the GuruNavi App to help find nearby recommended places to eat when we are out and about exploring Tokyo.

Next up . . . . Getting Around Tokyo (How to Use the Subway Metro System).

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Resources:  Popular Dishes by Japan Guide.com / Restaurants by Japan Guide.com / Dining Out by Japan Guide.com / 10 Sensational Stops for Japanese Food in Shinjuku, Tokyo by Serious Eats

Friday, May 18, 2018

Tokyo Adventures: The Land of the Rising Sun

Japan is referred to as the "Land of the Rising Sun."  But what does that mean?  Here's an interesting video to explain it.


Japan is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean with dense cities, imperial palaces, mountainous national parks and thousands of shrines and temples.  There's even a sacred pilgrimage called Kumano Kodo (Wikipedia) which like the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage routes is designated a world heritage site.

On this first trip, I'll focus my travels inTokyo with daytrips to nearby surrounding areas to include Mount Fuji and Ashi Lake, Kamakura and Nikko.  I wanted to also visit Kyoto, Osaka, Takayama, etc., but logistically it would be too rushed. Hopefully, I'll be able to return again one day.

Tokyo, Japan has been on my must see list for countries in Asia that I have wanted to visit with others to include Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.  When my two nieces recently won a trip to Japan for placing 3rd overall in a dance competition my sis convinced me to visit Japan with them, thereby postponing my second Camino Portuguese which I had originally planned to do this year. 

Japan has many things that appeals to me as a traveler.  There are beautiful parks, ancient shrines and temples, amazing natural beauty, fascinating history, a tradition-rich culture, delicious cuisine and from what I have heard from friends who have visited, the most respectful, gracious, polite and helpful people they have ever encountered while traveling. In Tokyo, their transportation system is efficient and the locals keep their city exceptionally clean.  And although it is a busy urban city with 9.2 million people in their 23 special wards, Tokyo is considered to be a very safe place to visit. 

Within these special wards there are many interesting districts that will be fun to explore.  Here are a few places and things on my must see list:

Ginza is a shopping and entertainment district filled with upscale department stores, art galleries and fine dining restaurants.

Shinjuku  is home to the busiest railway station and where tall skyscrapers and Metropolitan Government offices (ie., there is a free observation deck in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Building) can be found. On the east side of Shinjuku station there is a lively night life in pedestrian streets that include Kabukicho, Omoide Yokocho and Golden Gai.  Finally, Shinjuku Gyoen is a large park located only a 10 minute walk away from Shinjuku station. Meiji Shrine  is a shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken.  It is located adjacent to the popular HarajukuMake sure to walk down akeshita Dori (Takenshita Street) which is a narrow 400 meter long street lined by shops, boutiques, cafes and fast food shops.  Nearby is one of Tokyo's largest parks, Yoyogi Park which features wide lawns, ponds and forested areas.

Asakusa is reminiscent of the traditional Edo (the former name of Tokyo) and is the location of the famous Senso-ji Temple .  One of the many colorful and popular temples, the Senso-ji Temple is Tokyo's oldest temple.  The legend says that in the year 628, two brothers fished a statue of Kannon (goddess of mercy) out of the Sumida River, and although they put the statue back into the river, it always returned.  Consequently, Sensoji was built nearby for the goddess.  Leading up to the Temple is Kaminarimoon Gate and Nakamise Shopping Street.  Crossing Nakamise Street is Dempoin Street and west of it is Hoppy Street (lined with food shops).

Shibuya is famous for its busy shopping district filled with department stores.  It is considered the center of fashion, nightlife and youth culture. It is also the location of the famous Shibuya crossing where up to 3,000 pedestrians are known to cross with each light change. Akihabara (Akiba) is a dense retail area in central Tokyo that is filled with several major electronics stores, specialty stores and large discount stores such as Don Quijote (a kind of dollar tree store on steroids), game centers  and themed cafes like the Gundam (ie., a Japanese animation series about giant robot mobile suites piloted by humans), Maid and Cat Cafes. On Sundays, the main boulevard (Chuo Dori) is closed for pedestrians.  There are alleys that branch off from this main thoroughfare that is also worth exploring.

Ueno is known for its beautiful parks (Ueno Park) and cultural institutions.  In the spring time, it is a popular spot for its view of cherry blossoms. There are also several notable shrines like Kaneiji Temple, Kiyomizu Kannon Temple, Toshogu Shrine and Bentendo. 



Here are a few other specific sites in Tokyo that are on my list of places to see.

Imperial Palace is the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan and is located on the former site of Edo Castle. It is surrounded by moats and stone walls in the center of Tokyo.  From the Kokyo Gaien (large plaza in front of the Palace), there are views of the Nijubashi (two bridges). Imperial Palace East Gardens are part of the inner palace area and open to the public.  The foundation of the former castle tower can be found on a wide lawn area and at the foot of the hill there is the Ninomaru Japanese Garden.

Tsujkiji Market - A famous open wholesale market for fish, fruit and vegetables. In the outer market, there are numerous food stalls and small retail shops.

Observation Deck Views are located in a few notable high rise buildings around Tokyo. Among the most popular are the Tokyo Skytree, Mari Tower and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.

I also hope to do 2-3 day trips during my visit for a change of pace and a different experience from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.

Mt. Fuji (Hakkone) is Japan's highest mountain.  Standing at 3776 meters high, it remains an active volcano which on clear days can be seen from Tokyo.  We are booked for a tour that will take us up to the 5th Station on the southern slope of Mt. Fuji and will include a cruise on Ashi Lake and a journey to the top of Mt. Komagatake. 

Kamakura is a small town (sometimes called the Kyoto of Eastern Japan) located less than an hour south of Tokyo. There are numerous temples (ie., Great Buddha) and shrines (Kotoku-in and Hokoku-ji Temple, famous for its bamboo grove) which I would like to see.

Nikko is a town at the entrance of Nikko National Park and the location of several beautiful shrines like the Toshogu Shrine.

I am looking forward to my visit and finally getting a small taste of Asia.  I'll travel west to Hawaii first and then onward to Tokyo Japan for 11 days. On my way home, I'll spend a few extra days in Hawaii for some beach and Mai Tai time before returning back home to California.

Next up .  .  . Japanese Cuisine and Getting Around Tokyo (Using the Metro Subway System).
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Resources: Special Wards of Tokyo (Wikipedia), Tokyo Imperial Palace (Wikipedia), Imperial Palace (Japan Guide.com), Imperial Palace East Gardens (Japan Guide.com), Sensoji Buddhist Temple (Japan Guide.com), Don Quijote (Planetyze), Mount Fuji (Japan Guide.com), Kamakura (Japan Guide.com), Kamakura Big Buddha (Japan Guide.com), Nikko (Japan Guide.com), Toshogu Shrine (Japan Guide.com), Ueno (Wikipedia), Observation Deck Views (Japan Guide.com)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

My latest obsession. Should I?

Lately, I have been obsessively following a thru hiker who is currently hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  Sara who I have been following for a while now has done several Camino de Santiago Routes, the Appalachian Trail and the Annapurna Circut in Nepal to name a few.  I am enjoying the videos she's posting about her experiences.  She's often seen with another fellow hiker (trail name "Squish") who is posting some beautiful photos on his Instagram.  They are currently entering the Sierra mountains portion of the PCT which will be fun to follow along. Check out Sara's Youtube Channel and Squish's Instagram (Trailing Adventures) for cool videos and photos.



She is so upbeat, it makes me feel like I wouldn't mind sampling a "taste" of doing a section of the PCT.  After all, I have done "some" camping and "some hiking".  ☺

And then I watched this YouTube video on the World's Worst Backpacker on the PCT which I found pretty funny but also profoundly important in a "life lessons" kind of way.



For anyone who knows me I can get overly ambitious about things I obsess over and when I do I can disregard any logical reasoning that tells me not to do it. 

- I remember when I wanted to train and run a marathon when I had not even run a mile in my life.  I trained for 9 months, cried when I crossed the finish line and couldn't walk without pain for a week after but I finished it in under 6 hours (which was my goal).

- I wanted to hike up the Yosemite Half Dome and although I didn't cry on this adventure, I did manage to lose a toe nail.  But I did make it up the cables and to the top. 

- I walked the Camino de Santiago Frances Route.  I cried on Day 4 and had to skip a couple of stages but I made it to Santiago de Compostela with not one blister.

Now I wasn't born with a naturally fit body. And even after months of training, it was still incredibly challenging doing my adventures.  In his video, the backpacker identified an important mantra of the PCT hiker called the "Everything is a Blessing" mantra.  I found this amusing because I had the very same existential experience while doing the Camino de Santiago (Frances Route) in 2016. After realizing that I was not going to be that hardcore pilgrim who could walk 20 miles a day with their full pack and reaching Santiago de Compostela in 30 days or less, I accepted my situation and began to savor my experience more.  Rather than stressing about the difficulty of this long distance walk (which I was not prepared for), I decided to embrace the incredible journey that I was on and that everything that I was experiencing was a blessing.

Now, I've had some experience camping.  I've slept on a boat in a thunder storm and survived, rolled down a hill at Shasta Lake in my sleeping bag because I was fidgeting so much in the freezing cold temperature at night.  I even crashed into a bear at our campsite at Yosemite National Park.  Now, I have no intention of ever doing the entire PCT, but I wouldn't mind doing a section. However, since I'm afraid of bears and rattle snakes, should I even try. 


Sometimes I feel like I'm back on that Switchback climb up to Yosemite, contemplating my next steps.  Now, I'm not particularly afraid of heights, but this section scared me, because I felt like there was nothing to grab onto in case I slipped.  But isn't that life.  Sometimes we don't know what our next steps will be like or the footing we will have when moving forward.


Even though the Worst Backpacker guy didn't complete the PCT, he will have no regrets in his life.    We shouldn't be afraid of failure in our lives because whether we succeed or fail, what is most important is that we try to live our life to the fullest.  I'm not sure what my next adventure will be, but whatever it is I will look upon the experiences as a blessing. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Happy Mother's Day

While decluttering my closet I stumbled upon a box of old photos and a blank manila envelope.  Inside of the envelope I found several old greeting cards that I had saved from many years ago. I opened them and discovered they were all from my mother.

Although I left home when I was 19 to go to college and later moved to work in Los Angeles, my mom and I remained very close. She was the rock, the glue, the spark plug and the foundation for all the love and support that our family was so lucky to have. She passed away way too young and it has been very hard not to have her physically in my life.

My eyes welled up as I read each card and in everyone of them she always made sure to tell me how much she missed me, how much she supported me and my dreams and most important, she always let me know how much I was loved by her and my dad.  I miss her.


Although I can no longer hear her say these beautiful words, I definitely feel her love as much today as I did back then.  Thank you so much for your love and support Mom. It has definitely shaped me to be the person I am today and the person I hope to continue to be each and everyday. I love you.


Happy Mother's Day!  

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Remember Me?

It's been a while since I've actively posted about my travel adventures here on this blog, because I've been posting them live on my Trekcapri's Travel Adventures Facebook Page.  While I like my Travel Facebook page, it doesn't offer the features to categorize and insert more than one link in a post.

I find my Trekcapri Blog here to be a better and easier platform to post trip plans and memorializing my travel adventures.  I've updated my Google map to include my 2016 Camino de Santiago, my 2017 trips to Italy, Croatia (GrapeHops Tours) and Hawaii (after a five year absence).

This July will be my second year retirement anniversary and time has really flown by.  I am loving this new life chapter and have no problems keeping busy and finding new projects, which I'll post about here.

So where to next?  This year (September), I'm going to Japan for the first time which I'm very excited about.  In 2019, I hope to do my second Camino walking the Portuguese Central Route to be followed with a third Camino in 2020 to walk the Northern Route. I usually take just one international trip a year, but I am thinking about taking a second international trip in 2019.

I'll also do some posts about my past trips to Spain (Barcelona and my Camino), Italy, Croatia and Hawaii.

Here's my updated my Google Map. Hopefully, I can add more blue markers.




Friday, September 15, 2017

It's time for another Trekcapri Travel Adventure.  This time, I'm hanging up my trekking poles from my Camino de Santiago last year and heading to someplace familiar and new. 

I'm visiting Croatia for the first time with a small group tour called GrapeHops Tours with Shannon who I met through the SlowTalk/Slow Europe travel community. I'm especially excited that my sister (and brother-in-law) will be visting Europe with me for the first time. 

We'll stop in Venice (my favorite city other than Santiago de Compostela and Pamplona, Spain) before heading over to Croatia. Next we return to Italy for stops in Rome, Siena and ending in Florence before returning home. 

And I'm also pretty excited to see New York after nearly 20 years.  We'll spend a couple of days before heading to Italy and spending a day on the return home. 

I can almost taste the Prosecco and Italian Pizza already!  Ciaó 


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Happy Father's Day!

Last year while walking the Camino de Santiago, I hit a few low points and struggled a bit.  But in those low moments, I picked myself up and kept on walking.

One of the values that I learned from both my mother and father was the ability to overcome the many challenges in my life.  This really helped me on my Camino.  This was I photo I took the morning of the last stage on my Camino.  It was raining a bit when I first started out, but soon the clouds broke and I could see the sunlight breaking through.  It was a very memorable and fitting last day of my pilgrimage walk.


Thank you Dad for the many valuable things that you taught me.  Love you always, Happy Father's Day!


Happy Father's Day to Everyone!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Climate Change is Real!

Climate change is real! I saw first hand clear signs of the danger the world is facing when I saw the receding Glaciers in Patagonia, Argentina.

Although, America's so-called President has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord and continues to deny climate change, local US cities and states, individual private citizens, corporate America and the majority of world leaders remain committed and are in this fight together to save our planet for ourselves and for our future generations.

The world is fully aware that the United States of America President Donald Trump does NOT represent the majority of Americans who remain in this fight to save our planet.