Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mom's Visit to Okinawa...

I was so blessed to have my mom visit Okinawa for half of my spring break and into her spring break the following week. It was so great to show her around and have her meet the wonderful people that have touched my life while here on the island.
We started our touring the day after she arrived, Thursday, by taking a drive up to the tip, Cape Hedo. We had a rainy start but the day ended up very nice! First, we stopped at Ryukyu Mura. It was set up with a very traditional Okinawa feel. I got to pet a bull, yup about as exciting as the picture looks! haha There was a little room with the giant rope used for the Tug of War...I don't know much else about it cuz most of the signs were only in Japanese. Here is my mom and I.
From Ryukyu Mura, we headed straight up to the tip of the island. God was testing my patience on the way up as there was a car going 10 kph slower than necessary. Keep in mind that when you're only supposed to be going 50kph, 10 is a lot. I mean seriously, we're only going less than 35 miles per hour anyways! Ah gotta love the one road highways! Oh well, I managed okay and since the view is gorgeous I survived the trip! The wind sure was movin up there, but we had a great time and I'm pretty sure my mom was wowed by the view that is my home!

Alison snuck a picture from behind, since usually, yes it's true, I walk ahead quite often :) I blame my legs!
From the tip we drove across the way to the National Park with the huge geological formation. We had a great time walking through the large and obscure rocks course then into the Scenic View course. Alison and I had previously just done the Scenic view course so we thought we'd branch out and do something new ;)
Here is my mom and I in front of the Goku Rock.

From the National Park, we headed down south to the Nago Pineapple Park. We had a blast taking the little motorized pineapple cart, taking the cheesy quiz on the tour, and finally trying all of our favorite treats!

Friday was a nice and relaxing day. I took my mom to the sea wall during the day only to find that the waters had receded so much that a good portion of the way out was now land. Crazy! Alison and I usually go at night, apparently we miss so much! But we sat and chatted about how we could solve all the world's problems, haha not really, but you get the picture! In the evening time, we dropped Alison off at Kim's to babysit for the evening and my mom and I headed to Cape Zanpa to trek up the lighthouse. It was, again, windy, but beautiful!
Saturday was a busier day for us. We headed down South this time to the capital city of Naha, where we did some shopping and ate lunch, then headed to the Ryukyu Glass Factory, the same place we had previously gone glass blowing. It was great showing off all the really cool stuff that comes from this place! Afterwards Alison and I decided we would show my mom how a typically historical walk goes. haha Good times. So we were headed to find some rice paddies and some castle ruins. On the way down and around the southern tip we saw that we would be passing by the World War II Peace Park, and since it was GORGEOUS, we made a pit stop to take in the breathtaking view and walk the park a bit.

So we left the park and headed around the southern tip, somewhat new territory for Alison and I. Alison of course had the tour book in hand guiding us. Well, we got a bit turned around and couldn't exactly find that all too important rice paddy field, or whatever it would be called, so we pulled over so Alison could point to our book and see if we could get off in the right direction.
Here is Alison waiting oh so patiently for the people to congregate and figure this out.
Well, after this group decided they couldn't exactly help us they apparently made a phone call to the man in this car. He came and had us follow him. Yeah, seriously, follow some random guy down the road. Okay, we did it! Turns out there was another car following us, apparently going to the same place but we didn't really know cuz we couldn't communicate with any of them. This is the road that random guy took us down. hmmm, interesting...and somewhat sketchy.
Well, i'm sorry to say that in the end we saw nothing but another beautiful view. We think we were close to the rice paddies but it didn't happen on this day. We were all so exhausted from driving, or maybe that was just me, that we somehow missed the castle ruins as well and I decided we'd had enough and we headed home. Another tour book day! We had to inform my mom that typically we find exactly what we're looking for! Oh well, it's all part of the adventure.

Saturday night we took my mom to the Flashing Light Place, it's our own special name since we can't read the signs and there are literally tons of fluorescent flashing lights on the building outside after dark.
It was really exciting to have my mom with me for Easter Sunday! Church was great and we were invited over to Rocky and Gina's afterwards where we spent the afternoon/evening eating great food and playing the Wii! Always a joy! :)
Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, my mom came with me to school. My new aide also started this week, and while I'm sure there will be more on her later, I must say that she is great and this will be a better end to the year! Anyways, my mom got to see the good, the bad, and the ugly. The kids, especially the girls, just loved her and she was definitely a huge help during rest time! It's funny she said to me, "Ya know, when you would talk to me on Skype about how much the kids don't listen, I would think to myself, well how bad could it be? Then I came, and I know exactly what you're talking about!" haha Yup she saw it all! :)
I took Thursday off of work to spend my mom's final day just relaxing and being together. We did some shopping and headed out to the Botanical Gardens. I had never been there but will definitely have to make another trip there with my Japanmate before we leave. It was amazingly beautiful! I was in awe of all my surroundings, just gorgeous!

I got to climb a palm tree! Cool huh?
Gotta love self timers on our digital cameras! :)

I had a blast with my mom here and am so thankful that she too will have a picture in her head of the wonderful things and people on this island! I truly am blessed! Thanks for coming mom!!!! :)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Osaka Walking Tour...

Spring break is here! Alison and I were so excited for our trip to Osaka, so excited that we really didn't plan much for it! haha We're such pro travellers now we'd figure we'd get there and go from there, with the exception of our walking tour on day 1! We left Saturday morning for the airport, where once again we were not asked for any form of picture id. Apparently this doesn't concern them. Anyways, our flight was good...Alison got in some reading time and enjoyed poking me during my nap time. Always a pleasure! :) We were thrilled when we exited the airport toward the subway and found a Golden Spoon! Of course we stopped and had a snack!
We made our way to our hotel, Swissotel, which was very nice and wonderfully located just above the subway. After some walking around and shopping, we crashed for the night in preparation for our tour on Sunday.

Sunday morning we found the hotel our tour group was meeting at with no problems, one of our first proud moments of the trip. Our first stop as a group was the Umeda Sky Tower with a floating garden and observation deck. The building is 170 meters up with a beautiful view of the city. We didn't have the best weather but it was still a great view!

Apparently the tower is a popular wedding spot as well as a nightly hang out. In the store they sell these little metal hearts that they engrave and lock onto this fence, where they remain forever, supposedly...let's just say they haven't run out of room yet. We wanted to go in and sit on the fun chairs on this little deck but the security guy practicing his martial art forms was a bit intimidating :) haha I should have took a picture of him!

This is just inside on the observation floor in a fun little booth overlooking the city.
This is the tower from the bottom. The two things that go across near the top are the escalators that take you to the very top from the elevator.
This is the "floating garden." Looking down from the top this area appears to be floating as it is surrounded by water. So beautiful!
From the Sky Tower we walked back to the Granvia Osaka, where we met in the morning, for lunch. We had fish and I must say that it was yummy! Go figure huh? :) Alison and I got to talk with a couple from Texas who were in Japan touring and on their way to visit their son who is teaching English for the year. He's ready to go home too :) They were really sweet people and made for some great lunch conversation!From lunch we walked to the Osaka Castle. There were a ton of people there since on mainland this is the cherry blossom season. I must say though that Okinawa has much prettier blossoms, pink instead of white!
Here is Alison, behind me again! She really needs some longer legs :)

Osaka Castle
We were able to go to the top floor of the castle and go out onto the deck. Here is a view down from the top of the Castle. After the castle we hiked to where our boat would be picking us up for a harbor cruise. If you recall, when we went to Tokyo, we also took a boat cruise, and it was so exciting I fell asleep! Well this one was just as exciting, only because we were so squished, I didn't really get a nap. I was only able to "rest my eyes" for just a few moments. This was of course after they had to lower the ceiling on our boat so we could clear one of the bridges, as a result of the rise in water. I must say I was a bit worried as the ceiling came REALLY close to my head! Check out the picture below, the man sitting next to Alison has the right idea! :) After the tour that evening, Alison and I found our way to an 8 story shopping mall in the area. We were exhausted but knew we needed to check this place out! We got to shop at the Gap! It was so exciting! I found a skirt and a belt! good times! The awesome part is the ferris wheel that was on top of this 8 story building. We just had to do it! Here I am in our red bucket. We timed the ride very nicely as all the city lights were beginning to come on during our ride!

Universal Studios and Kyoto

Monday, was Universal Studios day! You may be saying, "Why go to Universal Studios when there is one in California?" Well, I must say that in living in so cal for 25 years I have never been to Universal Studios. This is my chance! :) We found our subway, the right one, the first time :) and made it to find that while there is a Universal City Walk in Osaka there is also a Golden Spoon! (yes, again!!!) We had a little morning snack then waited in the ticket line FOR EVER!
When we made it inside we went first to the Hollywood Dream Rider roller coaster. Alison was a little scared but with the help of some rockin music, she survived with flying colors! We made our way around the park, rode some crazy rides....everything from 3D spiderman to "head banging" Back to the Future (literally head banging....I was on the side by the door and every move I knocked my head on the side of the car!!! ouch!) We also got to go see the Japanese Wicked show! It was a good thing I knew the story because most of it was in Japanese, though they sang many of the songs in English with Japanese subtitles on the side screens. It was great! Alison caught some video of the song Popular, with her camera hiding near her sweatshirt.
There was a store front called "Adrienne's Pet Shop" haha Alison found a really special Hello Kitty hat!
After leaving the park, which by the way, they don't allow anyone but season pass holders to re-enter the park (strange!) we headed to City Walk to have dinner at Bubba Gumps...WAY too much food, but yummy!
By the end of the day we were exhausted, to say the least! We went back to our hotel and crashed...getting all ready for our super adventurous last day!
Alison and I decided to take a trip out to Kyoto (about a 45 minute train to the main station). We had our handy dandy city map of Kyoto and we found our final destination, the Golden Pavilion. One problem, it was pretty much nowhere near a local subway station. We made it to Kyoto and were standing in the station, tons of people all around, and we thought....and looked at the map....and thought some more...and finally decided to find someone and point to the nearest station to the temple, then when we arrived there we would find someone else and point to the temple. Might sound confusing, it was at first, but it ended up being an incredibly successful trip!
The Golden Pavilion
Beautiful scenery!
Alison and I (still standing)
After leaving the Golden Pavilion, Alison talked me into going to another temple, Ryoanji Temple, that ended up being about a 20 minute walk down the street. The weather was beautiful with a fabulous breeze...all in all, a nice walk!
We had the pleasure of taking our shoes off, yet again, before entering the temple, to find these people chillin, staring at the rocks. Really kinda creepy!
The decorations and surrounding scenery at nearly every place we visited was incredible!
Finally, we made a stop at the Nijo Castle in Kyoto. The castle was built in the 1600's as the official residence of the first Shogun, ruler of the country. The decoration and detail in the castle was amazing! We weren't allowed to take pictures inside, so sorry. The floors in the castle are "Nightingale Floors," meaning they squeak! It was kinda fun walking around with no shoes on hearing the floors creak.

The Osaka/Kyoto trip was amazing and Alison and I are more than proud of how we got around town without ever really getting lost. Then, when we arrived back in Okinawa on Wednesday we landed 30 minutes apart from my mom's flight! She's in Okinawa, so fun! We're having a blast and I'll be posting pictures from all our adventures soon!