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The Great Barrier Reef – Australia

Author: Steve

After reaching the GBR this was our view of Lady Musgrave Island. We took a glass bottom boat from here to the island for a tour of Lady Musgrave

One of our main plans in going to Australia was to visit another one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World . . . that being the Great Barrier Reef (GBR).

We were all set to take a tour that gave us accommodations at a lodge with a short flight onto one of the islands in the GBR.  But then someone at one of the campsites told us of a more cost efficient route by taking a boat out to one of the islands.  So we decided to ditch the small plane and take a boat instead. This new plan also had us driving farther north giving us a chance to see more of the countryside. We ended up driving to the town of 1770, which is where Captain James Cook discovered Australia . . . yeah it’s kind of the same way Christopher Columbus discovered America.

After our tour of the island – the views were amazing anywhere you looked

 THE GOOD

The boat facilities were good; we had a full agenda with snorkeling, a land tour of Lady Musgrave Island, semi-submarine boat for observations, fishing, glass bottom boat, lunch and morning and afternoon tea.  The GBR is the worlds largest coral reef system with over 2900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching over 1600 miles . . . its huge!  It was simply amazing to be snorkeling within the reef and among the sea life; at one point the four of us were swimming with these huge sea turtles . . . highlight of the day. The water was so clear, which made the coral amazing and the sea was full of dazzling shades of blue. That’s as good as I can explain how awesome it was . . . which I know doesn’t do it the justice it deserves.

The island itself was amazing

THE NOT SO GOOD

I know myself and I know I don’t take chances when it comes to 90 minute boat rides in the open water so I picked up some Kwells at the first opportunity (thanks Karina for telling us about Kwells).  That morning before we left I had Keegan take a half a pill, Kendal take one and I took two.  Amy doesn’t really get seasick so she decided to only take one.

Looking out at a portion of the enormous Great Barrier Reef

As I started reading the brochure a little closer I noticed 3 areas where they mention sea sickness and taking precautions and then when we got on the boat I saw that they had multiple sea sickness bags in every seat (uh oh!!).   Before we got underway we received our briefing and agenda for the day, the last part of the briefing went over specific instructions on what to do in case you possibly get seasick . . . this was so not looking good.  But I thought no biggie, it’s a 90 minute ride so I started my stopwatch.  I figured it would take at least 30 minutes to troll out to open water and then maybe we’ll hit some waves but we would need to slow down once again as we got close to the reef . . . maybe 20-30 minutes tops for rough water.  So I thought.  Five minutes into the ride and we hit very, very rough water.  I immediately went into the fetal position not wanting to hear, see or think about anything other than not getting sick and praying for the captain to slow down.  When it’s this rough you don’t care what anyone thinks of you so the fetal position seemed to work for me.

Before we took-off Amy was waving happily at the kids who were on the other side of the boat.  When you’re together with your kids for 12 months non-stop you take advantage (and so do they) of having freedom in a safe environment so they were together on the other side of the boat. The boat had 2 seats on one side, 5 in the middle and another 2 on the other side, all separated by an aisle – sitting down Amy and I couldn’t see the kids and we sure hoped they were okay because neither one of us could stand up after we started.  As big as this boat was no one could stand up due to the swells throwing the boat around.  So at exactly 10 minutes (I know because I opened one eye long enough to see my watch) we hit a huge wave and came smashing down and all I heard was my poor little Amy saying, “Oh sh*t!!” . . . and then it really started to get bad.

So here’s the procedure from the briefing: if someone were to get sick, you were to very carefully fill your sickness bag and then raise your hand, there were attendants lined up in the back of the boat with rubber gloves on that would come to you and take your bag and give you another one (kind of like this has happened many times over).  Every once in a while I would peek open one of my eyes and all I saw were hands going up all over the boat and these attendants running back and forth with these bags filled with “sickness”.  A few times when I opened my eye I tried to help Amy by giving her a quick rub on her back as she was bent over on the chair in front of her, she looked miserable.  Her hand went up about 10 times . . . ouch!  These waves were relentless and as time went by I kept looking at my watch  – it ended up being a 2-hour ride from hell!  Luckily the kids were fine watching a documentary on the GBR on the TV that was hanging on the other side of the boat.

Pretty bird isn’t it? Well that bird swooned down out of no where while I was eating a cookie during afternoon tea and pecked at my head and yes I have witnesses.

Amy knew we only had the day out there so she forced a quick recovery once we hit the island and participated in all activities, unfortunately a number of other tour participants just sat and watched the day go by fearing the ride back (it took Amy a few days to completely recover).  We found out after, that a man the day before got so sick and was so upset that he said he wouldn’t go back on the boat and said he would pay anything to get a helicopter out there to pick him up.  The Captain actually tried but in the end this guy had to endure the ride back.  Luckily the ride back was slightly smoother (more Kwells) but I did see a number of people with their hands up.  Amy and I just kept talking as a distraction and that worked.

Moral of the story – take a plane!

Our destination was inside the coral reef (we were surrounded by the reef) so it was nice and calm perfect for snorkeling.  Other than the ride there and back it was an amazing outing

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2012 in Australia

 

New Mates in Toowoomba – Queensland, Australia

Author: Amy

Our Aussie grillmaster – Steve, yes another Steve!

To fall in love with a place is such an amazing feeling.  Australia just had a sense of calm about it that we all embraced. We loved our time in the salty air at the beach and just as much enjoyed the Hinterland as they call their countryside and mountainous regions.  I had never heard of Toowoomba, Australia before I arrived here but we had communicated with another travelling family that finished their year in January and they were from Toowoomba (www.fourdotsonthemap.com).  Karina had mentioned in an email – stop by if you’d like.  Well that was her first mistake.  We went and spent 2 fabulous nights at their house.  They have two boys, Harris who is Keegan’s age and Patrick a few years younger.  The three boys set up camp and slept in the back yard.  We were given yet another example of the wonderful, giving people that live on our planet. We couldn’t have asked for more gracious hosts.

Setting up the tent!

Keegan trying the famous “Vegemite”, it was actually pretty good, the secret is to apply a thin layer don’t pile it on.  You can sing this next sentence, I know you want to — “and they gave me a Vegemite sandwich”!!

Toowoomba is inland and we travelled about 2 hours from our refreshing salt air to meet our new friends.  As you head away from the coast the roads get curvy and you feel yourself getting higher above sea level.  The town sits up high in a beautiful mass of green.  It is fall here in Australia so the nights are cool and the days have been perfect.  We had a fabulous visit with our new friends and had a lot of laughs sharing our different adventures . . . what incredible people!  We hiked a mountain near their home called Tabletop Mountain.  It was a great way to spend the day.  We had an “official” Australian Barbie at their friend’s house.  She lives on 25 acres where she has a few Alpacas and they were sure we would see wallabies and kangaroos there as well as possibly koalas.  It was a beautiful evening of eating, drinking and enjoying a campfire.  Some of us saw wallabies some saw a kangaroo and some of us heard koalas.  We learned that they make a grunting noise and sure enough after it was dark we heard it.  Out of the many beautiful things that stick out in Australia one of the most powerful is the evening sky – the stars are like we have never seen before.  To see the night sky lit up by stars is something that will stay with us forever.  That night at the barbie ended perfectly with a viewing a few shooting stars – magical Australia.

That’s Keegan, Kendal and Steve II as we reached the top of Tabletop Mountain

That’s me and Karina making our way up the mountain; it wasn’t as easy of a task as I first thought but what an adrenalin rush

Kendal holding the gate as we enter the “yard” for our Australian BBQ

Our new Aussie friends and wonderful host and hostesses. Our stay was “the ducks nuts!”

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2012 in Australia

 

Gold Coast Holiday Park – Queensland, Australia

Author: Steve

Keegan could have stayed all day, everyday at the beach.

We had no intention of visiting Australia and as we look back we really had no reason other than preoccupation with the rest of our trip.  However, this last minute decision to visit Australia was a great one!

Our flight took us from Tokyo to the coastal city of Gold Coast, Australia, which is in the state of Queensland.  Amy really wanted to hit the campsites that she had been reading about and she found a great one in Gold Coast on Main Beach called the Gold Coast Holiday Park. Just imagine an extremely family friendly campsite surrounded by huge condominiums and directly across the street from the incredible roaring ocean beach.  It was so ideal. We would get up slow, the kids would do a little homework and then by 10am we were walking across the street to battle the intense waves for about 2 hours and head back for lunch.  After a little more homework we went back for round 2 at about 3pm for more wave battles. The beaches are so incredibly majestic and to have access like we had was a true blessing.

Back for round two – we’re coming for the waves! You can see the surf lifeguards in yellow over my shoulder. Because of the intense power of the waves you are instructed to only swim between the flags. These strong waves come at you from every angle, repeatedly and the rip can be really strong so if you’re not careful it can be very dangerous . . . people can go missing very easily.

This is what surrounds the campsite. We immediately found Australia and its people to be so relaxing and laid back.

That’s our porch – and yes they have wifi. You can see the beach in the background across the street, we all really loved this place.

Amy celebrating – she just booked one of our last flights to the US – such a nice, relaxing place.

Very interesting to me is that while we were in China we learned more about the “one baby” rule that started back in 1979 and as we were in Australia we learned that the government offers a $5,000 “baby-bonus” to entice couples to have a baby.  Something else pretty interesting to me is that in the city of Beijing they have a population of approximately 30 million people – now take a look at Australia, who has the land size larger than the US minus Alaska, and they have a population of only 24 million in all of Australia.

There’s Kendal and Keegan – always nice to meet new friends in a campsite.

We were there during the Easter Holiday so the campsite was full with families and activities.  The kids met a number of friends at this campsite and through them we met some great parents as well.  These new friends invited us to their home while we are traveling about – so we’ll be blogging about that soon.  This was a great way to start off our Australian tour and because of this nice start we decided to extend our stay a bit before heading back to the US.  I can’t believe our time is almost over . . . wow how a year flies!

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2012 in Australia

 

Sayonara Japan – Narita, Japan

Author: Kendal

The cute town of Narita, Japan

Our last couple days in Japan we decided to stay closer to the airport; we found a really cute city to stay in called Narita. The hotel we stayed in was about a 20 minute walk to the main temple, the Naritasan Shinshoji Buddhist Temple, so we decided to check it out. On the walk there we passed little cute shops and restaurants that were fun to go and browse around. Once we reached the temple we realized that it was GINORMOUS!!!! The artwork on everything was beautiful, they even had a cute fountain where there were at least 30 turtles lounging around.  As we walked further into the temple grounds we saw that they were having a service in the temple, so dad being dad took his shoes off and went in to check it out.  Behind the temple there was a huge garden/park and those cherry blossoms we had been searching for, well we finally found a few in bloom.  I guess even though this is the season we were still a couple weeks early because the weather was still cool. When we headed back we got another look at the cute shops and restaurants and saw that one of the restaurants had some men who were filleting a ton of eels right in the front of the restaurant. Then they would grill them up on skewers.

My parents kept telling me to try the grilled eel when we had sushi so I finally did on our last night and I loved it – the sauce is amazing!

In the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple the monks walking out.

There were huge fish in this pond, located in the Naritasan Park behind the temple, that would swim by you hoping you would feed them

On our last night in Japan we went to a local sushi restaurant, ate at the bar and had tons of sushi. The people working at that bar were super friendly and it was fun to watch them make the sushi.  Instead of the usual sushi I eat that is wrapped in rice called maki, I got nigiri, which is a little thing of rice on the bottom and a huge piece of fish on top.  The amount of fish they give you is easily twice the amount that you get in the USA. It was a great way to end our visit in Japan.  If you didn’t know, the next place we will be going is to the land “down under”…aka AUSTRALIA!!!!!

Our last night in Japan was awesome with great sushi but also very sad because we all loved Japan!

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2012 in Japan

 

Mount Fuji – Fujiyoshida, Japan

Author: Steve

Arriving at the Gekkouji train station in Fujiyoshida-Shi – traveling light and heading to our hostel after our train ride from Tokyo.

The hotel we were staying at in Tokyo was kind enough to allow us to leave our backpacks behind their desk while we took an overnight trip to Mount Fuji.  We were going to return to the same hotel in Tokyo so it really helped us to lighten our load.  Our backpacks are becoming a tiring part of our travels so being light going through the subway system is something we see as a gift.  We hopped on a train using our Japan Rail Pass and headed to Fujiyoshida-Shi to visit the beautiful Mount Fuji.  Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan, it’s an active stratovolcano that last erupted in 1707.

Beautiful Mount Fuji from our hostel window

We booked our accommodations at a traditional Japanese style hostel, it was walking distance from the train station and from the window you could see the awesome symmetrical cone shape of the mesmerizing Mount Fuji.

We never, ever would have imagined meeting a Green Bay Packer fan on the other side of the world, but we did.  Even though Mike is a New Yorker he believes in the nostalgia and legacy of Green Bay Packers. He’s a great guy who not only owned the hostel but also owned the pub below the hostel. That night at Mike’s Pub we talked about everything under the sun – Mike married a Japanese woman after his military career and has been in Japan for 16 years. We discussed the fact that even though Mount Fuji is so far south of where the earthquake (that spawned a ferocious tsunami and radiation leak) took place in 2011 that Fujiyoshida-Shi is still hurting from a tourist perspective.  They literally lost ten’s of thousands of tourists overnight . . . people just simply cancelled flights and accommodations throughout Japan.  It will take a while to rebound but he sees glimpses of that rebound every month. He also talked to us about how the Japanese people have banded together to help one another through this time . . . taking only what they needed for assistance and making sure others had enough. The ethical and moral compass in the Japanese people is strong and well.

Mike – our Green Bay Packer Fan in Japan!

The season for climbing Mount Fuji is July and August.  If we were to try “we would surely meet sudden death” as said by Bear Grylls in “Man vs. Wild”.  So instead we headed to one of the most picturesque locations in Fujiyoshida-Shi to view Mount Fuji; the Churei-toh Pagoda.  The trek up was very nice, through some Japanese neighborhoods and we seemed to be the only people up there other than a few teenage girls.  After we got to the top the kids took off further up into the woods and Amy and I just sat and took in the view.  It seemed like forever that the kids were gone and then Amy spotted 2 decent sized monkeys about 3 feet tall. We asked the 3 teenage Japanese girls (in our best sign language/charades) if the monkeys were mean and they fearfully grabbed their snacks and looked around with their eyes popped open. I immediately grabbed a big stick and started heading up the mountain, yelling for Kendal and Keegan all the way up (you really never know how many monkeys can be up there and after the mean baboons of Africa I didn’t want to take any chances). There was no response for what seemed to be forever so I obviously began to get nervous. I found myself alone in the middle of the woods now with heavy brush, I could hear or see no one at this point, my heart was pounding . . . very eerie feeling for about 4 minutes and then luckily they both appeared. Since they were on the other side of the mountain top they never heard me yelling and once I told them we saw monkeys they both grabbed sticks and starting hauling down the mountain.

On our way to Churei-toh Pagoda we caught some locals playing a game of what looked to be bocce ball.

The walk from our hostel to the Churei-toh Pagoda was fun and it was a beautiful brisk day for that hike

There it is, the picture everyone goes up for – now just imagine the trees to the left full of cherry blossoms – it was magnificent!

When we started our trip last June Amy and I had no intention of going to Australia but as we sat there looking at Mount Fuji we decided that if we could find some fairly cheap tickets we would visit Australia after Japan. Not sure how that happened but I’ll never forget sitting there looking at that view with Amy and making that decision.  We did find cheap tickets the next day, so Australia here we come!

Amy was able to get a shot of one of the monkeys from a distance

Mount Fuji was well worth the trip!

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2012 in Japan

 

Tokyo Stock Exchange – Tokyo, Japan

Author: Steve

On our way in to our tour

We are walking distance from the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) and I thought it would be a great learning experience for all of us to go check it out.  I know you’re probably thinking (sarcastically), ‘wow sounds like loads of fun’.  Well I’m happy to report that it was a great visit.  The TSE provides a free 1.5 hour English guided tour so we signed up. It ended up being the four of us on the tour and one woman from England. The lady that gave us the tour has been with the TSE for over 40 years and will retire in September.  She was very young for her age and provided us with a great tour.  It started with a 25 minute video presentation that outlines the details of how a stock exchange works, the beginning of the TSE even before it was officially established on May 15,1878, to today where there are no longer any traders on the floor and it has been computerized since 1974.

Looking at the heart of the Tokyo Stock Exchange

We were fortunate to not only learn but to actually see how this stock exchange works. What stood out for all of us was how large the US market is in comparison to all other countries.  The NYSE has a market cap of over $14 trillion, the next largest stock exchange has a market cap of about $3-4 trillion.  When you combine the NYSE and the NASDAQ, the US (even though it’s been declining over the years) still holds over 30% of the worlds market cap.

This was a great learning experience, well worth the visit!

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2012 in Japan

 

Akihabara-Electric City – Tokyo, Japan

Author: Keegan

I'm checking out this "sweet" electric guitar in Electric City.

Hi again Tokyo, Japan is an awesome city with tons of stores filled with electronics.  On one of our outings we went to a place called The Sony Centre. In the center it had about 4 floors showcasing all of their new technology ranging from cameras to video game consoles and everything electronic in between. There was this very cool video camera that took video and also the camera is like a mini projector. Okay so what I mean is that after you record your activity or event you can watch it on the wall or on a pillow in a dark room. It was very, very cool. I am so glad that my parents planned this trip for us because if they didn’t I would never have been able to see all of the cool technology. They had some 3-D TVs and some very cool computers. But my favorite was one of the hand-held tablets it isn’t even out in the United States it was called Sony Tablet P. The Sony Tablet P was super cool it was like a Nintendo D.S that gives you internet access as well, with two screens one on top and one on the bottom except it is a touch screen on both of the screens and they create one big screen, unlike the Nintendo D.S where only the bottom screen is touch. It is also like an I Phone because there are different screens that you can slide you finger to get to them.  Another day we went to a place called Akihabara also known as Electric City and each store they sell a different type of electronic then the other. They also have something like a pager except it is like a mobile WI-FI hot spot which was good because they don’t have like any WI-FI any where without paying for it. That store had at least 8 floors of stuff and one floor was TVs and there was another that was all video games and kids toys. On the TV floor my dad and I got to play Halo on the Xbox in 3-D and it was awesome.  While in Akihabara we went to a restaurant that had waitresses dressed up as maids.  Ask me about that some time!!!  Japan is a really fun city to explore.

Sayonara.

Testing the XBOX with the XBOX girl!!

Serious gaming kids come in the store with their stack of Yu-Gi-Oh cards in a nice case. Then they sign in to a large game console like you see. They place one of their cards down on the screen and the screen reads it and then they choose how to battle the console. It was so intense!

Here's one of the maid-girls I was talking about. They all have high voices like cartoon character. We went and saw them perform and had an ice cream. I thought it was way overpriced and I it was "awkward" so I won't be doing that again.

They had this Hanami scene (picnic) set up in the Sony Centre and they asked us if we wanted to put on the costumes. Of course we did!!!

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2012 in Japan

 
 
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