How Do You Measure A Year? – Wisconsin

Author: Steve

Ok . . . well . . . I don’t know what else to say other than, “IT’S OVER”!

We didn’t plan it this way but this is our 100th blog . . . we never imagined we would reach that number. “How do you measure a year” is saying we used throughout the last 12 months because it came from one of our family theme songs “Seasons of Love” from the play “Rent”.

We are in Wisconsin now spending some fun time with our families . . . Kendal and Keegan love nothing more than hanging out with their extended families and laughing till they can’t breath.  They are working out with a swim team and are loving being back in the pool and making new friends again.  I’ll be heading home to start back up with work and Amy and the kids will stay up north for a while longer to enjoy more time with family and the great summer weather in Wisconsin.

I’m heading to the airport and leaving Amy, Kendal and Keegan as they stay up north with family . . . since we arrived in Wisconsin I have been dreading this day, especially after seeing them almost everyday for a year. But this is a good decision, a decision that gives Amy a chance to spend time with her parents and the kids a chance to hang out with their grandparents . . . which they truly enjoy.

Thank you all so much for coming with us on our journey and sending all your well wishes . . . even though this blog at times (many times) became laboring we were motivated to keep writing knowing you were on the journey with us and we were enjoying the world together.  Thank you to the countless people around the world that embraced us as friends and helped to make our trip an adventure of a lifetime – the friendships you gave us are truly priceless.  Finally, a special thank you to all our host families that so graciously opened their homes and shared their lives with us – we will never forget your hospitality; know that you have lead by example and that your incredible generosity has taught us the true meaning of “unconditional giving”.

Amy, Kendal and Keegan all had their ‘it’s over’ sad moment back in Australia, mine didn’t hit until California (and more than once).  To have my family all together in that beach house, grilling steaks on the deck, watching the movie ‘The Bucket List’ and looking out onto the ocean was a site I will never forget (like so many, many moments during this year) and it reminds me again to be thankful for “Right Here and Right Now” because you never know what the future holds.  Looking over this years pictures at all the places we visited over the last 12 months is very surreal and makes us all really appreciate this adventure.  This year has been incredible and one of the best decisions Amy and I have ever made . . . to have this year together to travel around the world, I’m not sure what we could ever do to show our gratitude other than very humbly use what we’ve learned from these travels to try and be better people.  Maybe to be ambassadors and to explain how small our world is and how people on the other side of our world, in completely different cultures, all seem to want the same things; to give love, to be loved, to be happy, to provide for their children and to live an honest and meaningful life.  If we can do at least one thing and that is to share how great the people of our world are and how we are all Gods children then maybe, just maybe, we can all find the strength to have more patience and tolerance for each other to allow us all to love each other just a little more.

Here’s to Right Here and Right Now!



Posted by on May 29, 2012 in USA


Yosemite National Park – California

Author: Steve

We stayed in a cabin in Curry Village – the incredible rock formations were in every direction

Our final destination before heading to see family in Wisconsin was Yosemite National Park.  I really never read too much about Yosemite so going there I imagined it was probably just a cool National Park but wow . . . we were all amazed at the beauty of this place. It reminds me of when I went to the Grand Canyon for the first time a few years ago – I thought, ‘Sure this will be fun to hang out with the family and as an added bonus we can check out a huge hole in the ground . . . was I wrong. That’s what Yosemite is like – when you enter the park you get that “wow” moment, I would recommend it to everyone.  We all hiked the Lower Yosemite Falls, the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls and took a raft down the Merced River.  Amy, Kendal and Keegan also hiked Happy Isles and I decided I wanted to hike up to Glacier Point via the Four Mile Trail – it was beyond beautiful and pictures could never relay its beauty.

Keegan is a true outdoorsman – he could hike for days

Hiking up Mist Trail to Vernal Falls – that’s Amy and Keegan

Here’s a view from the top of Vernal Falls – we were drenched by the time we reached the top

The Four Mile Trail heading up to Glacier Point was my favorite – these views are well worth the 4.5 mile ascent with the 3200 feet elevation change

I hit snow on the way up and then the hike became much more adventurous!  This hike is rated as strenuous and they are not lying.

Another view as I hiked up to Glacier Point. I was able to reach the top in 2 hours and 3 minutes and I got back down in 1 hour 30 minutes.  Time was critical since we were driving to Sacramento that afternoon. In retrospect (since I was beat) I would not have driven four hours after that hike – a burger and a cold beer is all I really wanted at that point.

Reaching Glacier Point with Half Dome behind me – Yosemite is, hands-down, worth the trip!

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Posted by on May 26, 2012 in USA


San Francisco and Big Sur – California

Author: Steve

We thought it would be fun to spend some time in California so from Hawaii we flew into San Jose, California.  We spent a few days in the San Jose area just trying to get our sleeping cycles down, with the large time change we just went through since leaving Australia it was more of challenge than we thought.  It took much longer than we anticipated but we made it through it, I think the burritos helped —  wow, California makes great burritos!  We headed to downtown San Francisco and spent a few days exploring the city.  The highlight for all of us was biking over the Golden Gate Bridge for Amy’s birthday – that was a beautiful day; slightly windy on the bridge itself but a great day overall.

It was fun to take the trolley in San Francisco – great city and the weather was perfect

We are getting close to the Golden Gate Bridge to start our ride across

Keegan and I took a quick stop to check out Alcatraz – that’s Kendal and Amy on the bikes riding ahead

It was much cooler on the bridge due to the wind gusts but it was a nice sunny day

It was a great way to spend Amy’s birthday

We took a train to the San Francisco airport to pick up a car rental and started driving.  Another change that took a little bit to get used to was driving on the right hand side of the road with the steering wheel on the left, especially after having a rental in Australia for about 3 weeks where everything is opposite but again all is back to the same.  (One thing we’ve learned with all the rentals we’ve had is to simply reserve a car online that is just enough space for you and your luggage. When you get to the counter they will tell you they have a great deal and for $10-20 dollars more a day they can upgrade you to something better and larger.  Just tell them what you have is enough and you just want what you reserved – they most likely won’t have it and will upgrade you for free because they have no choice . . . hardly ever fails. The only chance you take is ending up with the car you originally reserved which should still be a good deal since you reserved it online.)  From San Francisco we headed south on Highway 1 to the Monterey and Santa Cruz area. We rented an apartment for 5 nights right on a fairly private beach – the views completely surpassed all of our expectations. (Another thing we’ve learned when it comes to apartment rentals is that you can get a really good deal by playing the numbers game. For example; I checked out a number of really cool apartments online, and most of them show their calendars of when the unit is and is not available. So I would simply send out a bunch of emails to the owners or rental agents asking if they had any aggressive last minute discounts – I figure they would want some money rather than no money when you have a rental unit; a win-win for all parties.  Out of the 10 emails I sent out we received 2 that were incredibly nice with a great discount – we ended up taking the one on the beach.)  From that location we took a great day trip down Highway 1 to Big Sur.  Being in California reminded us immediately not only that we are lucky to live in the US because of the freedom and democracy that is bestowed to us but how abundantly beautiful our country is.

That’s Kendal taking her last exam for virtual school – she was very excited to get that done. We are in the beach condo we rented in Pajaro, which is a very small community in Monterey County, California

I took this picture of Amy, Kendal and Keegan while I was grilling from the deck. It was so incredibly beautiful; it’s one of those places that if you ever needed months to write a book this is where you would want to do it.

On our way to Big Sur driving on Highway 1 we decided to stop and check out the views. I guess we are all starting to reflect on our trip and accept the inevitable return to our traditional everyday lives . . . and maybe have more of an appreciation for everything.


Posted by on May 23, 2012 in USA


Waikiki Beach – Honolulu, Hawaii

Author: Amy

The lagoon at the hotel

We lost Keegan for hours as he hit every water slide more times than we could count

Booking our flights along the way proved to be a good decision for us, since we really appreciated the flexibility.  Unlike in the US many places offer last minute price cuts on flights or offer lower prices all along.  We found flights from Australia to the US to be very expensive and super long so we opted for a low cost carrier that flew to Honolulu.  From Honolulu we booked a cheap flight to California the same day thinking we had just been on the beach in Aussie no need to visit Hawaii.  Well I didn’t fully understand that you gain a day when you fly from Australia to the US but now I get it.  It was a blessing in disguise — we arrived at 7am in Honolulu spent one night in Hawaii as a bit of a travel break.  What a great day we had.  We stayed at a nice resort and swam in a little lagoon hit their water-slides and went to the evening Luau.  It was a fabulous quick peek at Hawaii and we all are glad we ended up there – maybe wishing we would have stayed another night or two.

Keegan getting a “Sharpie” tattoo by one of the performers

Kendal was picked to go up and dance with the performers – she was doing her thing up there

The women performers at the luau moved so elegantly and effortlessly it was very beautiful

Doing an island warrior dance

We had a great time in Hawaii and a great night at the Luau!


Posted by on May 13, 2012 in USA


Hooroo Australia – Gold Coast, Australia

Author: Steve

Keegan saying good-bye to Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia

We are ending Australia where we started, in the Gold Coast – we decided to stay at the same campsite we stayed when we first arrived for a couple nights before catching a plane to Hawaii.  As we sit and reflect on our stay in Australia all we can do is be thankful for such an incredible experience in the land down-under with the great opportunity we were given to meet yet more incredible new friends.

We head to the US tomorrow and I cannot begin to tell you how sad I am that our trip is coming closer to an end and yet how happy I am that I have had this time with my family.



Posted by on May 12, 2012 in Australia


More New Friends Down Under and Koala’s – Brisbane, Australia

Author: Kendal

Here we are with our new mates and you can also see the Brisbane skyline in the background

Since we are now in…Australia!!!! (I love yelling that.)  We decided that since Australia was so huge we would just stay in the Queensland area and explore. At the campsite on one of our first nights in Australia we met a number of really nice and fun families. One of the families was even nice enough to invite us to their house for a night! People sure are friendly in Australia ;)! They have 3 kids, two boys, Jacob (12) and Lachlan (10) and one cute little girl named Maleese (7). When we got there we got the tour of the house and attacked… with kisses by their ADORABLE dog, Lily – love at first site 🙂 .

The cute koala just hanging out! Even though you hear koala “bear” sometimes, they are not bears at all they are marsupials, or pouched mammals.

Koala on the move! Koala’s are nocturnal animals and they sleep up to 18-20 hours a day.

They knew of a conservancy that held koala’s!!!!! So we all hopped in the cars and headed to the koala’s! They were so cute, and furry, and moving! We actually saw one climb . . . no, scoot down the tree and then crawl across to get some more leaves! It was a very nice way to see the koala’s that we had been looking for since being in Australia. Along the highways there are signs for koala crossing and we had been on the lookout. We found out that koala’s are threatened in Australia because they need a lot of space, about 100 trees per koala, and with the woodland areas shrinking in Australia so is the population of the koala.

Our group then headed off to a really good look out point to get a great view of the sky-line of Brisbane, thankfully there was a park to play on so when the parents talked we played! 😉 Once we got back we hung out around the house, and then had a typical Australian dinner on the barbie! It was delicious! Afterwards, while the parents did what parents do (talk) we kids played hide and seek in the dark…very nerve racking.  Since it was, say . . . midnight, we decided it was best if we got ready for bed.  In the morning we got to eat incredible egg and bacon breakfast sandwiches made on the barbie!  Before we left we got to do one more fun thing and that was ride their bikes to the parks in their neighborhood. Keegan and Jacob were on a tandem bike…let’s just say there was a lot of screaming on that bike . . .lol! It was such a fun experience to hang out with them; it was a great way to end the tour of Brisbane and we hope to see our friends again when they visit the US.

Keegan enjoyed practicing his video game skills with Lachlan and Jacob.

The authentic Australian barbie by Mike our grill man.

I tried out the authentic Aboriginal instrument; the didgeridoo.

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Posted by on May 11, 2012 in Australia


Fraser Island – Queensland, Australia

Author: Keegan

Our rental car and home for a few nights. We were lucky because the bathroom and showers were only 20 feet across the street and everything was very clean. All the campsites in Australia that we stayed at were actually very clean.

We are in Australia now and we are moving on to a place called Fraser Island. It is a huge island made of sand off the coast of Australia.  It is the largest sand island in the world, its 75 miles long and you can only access it by ferryboat.

Here we are getting ready for the long day

We got picked up by a tour company at the campsite we were staying at in a city called Noosa.  On the trip we took this HUGE 4×4 truck and the driver/tour guide asked my dad and I to sit in the passenger seat (front seat) with him.

This was my view for the tour that day – it was pretty cool being up front

To get to the island we had to take a barge that carries 4 x 4 trucks/cars across to the island. It was very cool. After that we went to a special spot on the water where there was a stream going into the ocean for morning tea but to get there was like…ugh…terrible!! It was like really bad turbulence on an airplane for fifteen minutes straight! It was not fun. We then rode on the beach for a couple of miles and then we went further in the island there were a lot of eucalyptus trees every where.

That’s my mom in Lake McKenzie which is one of the over 100 fresh water lakes on the island

Then we went to a large freshwater lake for a swim and lunch after that. The sand in the lake is supposed to make sliver and gold shiny when you rub some of it on your silver and gold jewelry, I guess it has silicon in the sand. While we were swimming we saw a Dingo (wild dog) and it was kind of cool looking. They say that Fraser Island has the most pure breed of Dingo’s in all of Australia because people are not allowed to bring dogs on the island and no other canine can get there because it is an island.

Some people never see Dingo’s when they go on the Island because there aren’t that many left. So we were lucky. This one came out of no where and every one just slowly backed away. We were looking at it and then we realized my mom disappeared – my dad said she saw some Dingo movie growing up where the Dingo eats a baby and ever since then she gets spooked by the Dingo’s so she took off.

For lunch I had some steak and it was pretty good Kendal had some too. My mom had shrimp on the barbie . . . again, she likes that.

The rainforest was really cool to walk through, it is the only place on earth where tall rainforest grows in the sand

After that we took the barge back and then went on the beach again for some afternoon tea. They are big on morning and afternoon tea here in Australia if you haven’t already figured out, which I don’t mind because it typically always includes cookies.

In the rainforest on Fraser Island

That day we saw four kangaroos and one dingo so it was a great day.

This is on our way back, we drove that beach for so long . . . it was very cool but a little too long for me so I closed my eyes for a bit and caught up on a little sleep

My dad is holding up a 2 and my mom is holding up a 1 – that’s so they remember where they spent their 21st wedding anniversary. They said, “it doesn’t get much better than this”!


Posted by on May 10, 2012 in Australia


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 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


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


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 (  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!”


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!


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!


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.


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!!!


Posted by on May 2, 2012 in Japan


Hello Japan – Kyoto, Japan

Author: Amy

Hello from Japan – yes we chose to head east on the remainder of our trip.  Initially our plans had us going back to Europe for the summer but after taking the flights to get this far East we decided to keep going.  We found some good flights and . . . hello Japan!!!

Here we are in the Ginza district - posing with the cherry blossoms we found.

Japan has been a great stop for us.  We purchased a Japan Rail Pass in Beijing — you have to buy it before you land in Japan to get the discounted price.  The pass allows you to travel throughout Japan on their fabulous trains.  We took the Shinkansen bullet train from Osaka to Kyoto and 3 or 4 different trips with the pass.  We felt like royalty riding on these trains.  They were so comfortable and CLEAN!!  Everything in Japan is so civilized and orderly.  You rarely see people eating or drinking on the streets and we never saw litter anywhere (we had read that in a travel guide book and it’s true).  If we saw smokers there were designated areas for that and people definitely obey the laws here.  There are white lined squares painted on the sidewalk where smokers could stand and smoke together and yes, people stayed in the lines. Our first taste of the intense order here was walking across an extremely very busy street; you don’t jay-walk in Japan and cars obey the laws. People cross major intersections from five different directions with no fear of ever getting hit. They say Japan is one of the safest countries in the world and we definitely felt safe . . . people were also so eager to help you if you looked lost.

Here comes the Shinkansen train.

Enjoying our down time on the Shinkansen.

After we landed in Osaka, we headed to Kyoto, which has a cute small town feel with a population of 1.5 million.  We had hoped we could catch some early Cherry blossoms but it had been a cold spring there and it also rained most of our stay.  Kyoto is known for it’s Geisha district of Gion and we had hoped to see some strolling about but since it was cold and rainy we didn’t see any.  We did see various different women wearing the traditional dress (kimono’s) with the mat/backpack on their back and the special shoes. We had a great hostel in Kyoto, which is where we were able to start posting our blog after our time offline in China.  After Kyoto we headed to Tokyo where the weather was much nicer, a bit cool but sunny and great weather to wander around in.  We visited the Ginza district, which is full of high-end shops, everything you could imagine.  Kendal wanted to pop in to the Abercrombie and Fitch store to see what’s new in teen fashion.  As we entered the store there was a small line and we noticed people were getting their picture taken.  It happened to be 2 male models showing their abs to all who entered the store and you could get your photo taken with them.  Not one to miss the opportunity Kendal stood in line and had her photo taken.

Kendal and her 2 favorite things about Japan.

A highlight was our visit to Tokyo Central Wholesale Market (Tokyo Chuo Oroshiuri Ichiba) or better known as the Tsukiji market, which is located in the Tsukiji district. We took a visit to see the market as well as to have the finest, freshest sushi.  The Tsukiji Market is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world!

We learned so much in China and I would recommend to anyone to definitely visit China – but after being there for a month we were ready for someplace new and Japan hit the spot perfectly.

Keegan at Tsukiji market with a huge tuna fish that the man just brought in.


Posted by on April 30, 2012 in Japan