Monday, August 8, 2011

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

We just got back from Jackson Hole Wyoming. It’s so nice in the there. We’ve been there before in the winter, but forgot how nice it is in the Autumn. Warm, clear and real  Big Sky Cowboy Country. There’s arches of elk horns and stage coaches in the central square. The views of the Teton Range are magnificent from all over the Jackson Hole Valley. The Grand Tetons are a big part of what Jackson Hole is known for. The average altitude of the valley is over 6,500 feet (2,000 m) and the high peaks of the Teton Range rise more than 7,000 feet (2,135 m) above the valley floor.
Jackson Hole, originally called Jackson's Hole, is a valley located in the state of Wyoming, near the western border with Idaho. The name "hole" derives from language used by early trappers & mountain men, who primarily entered the valley from the north and east and had to descend along relatively steep slopes, giving the sensation of entering a hole. These low-lying valleys are surrounded by mountains and contain rivers and streams, which were good habitat for beaver and other fur-bearing animals. Today, this valley is an elk wintering ground and is located about three miles north of the town of Jackson.
The only real town in the valley is Jackson itself, sometimes also mistakenly called Jackson Hole. Other small communities in the valley include Wilson, Teton Village and others. On the west side of the valley, Teton Pass crosses the Teton Range leading to Victor and Driggs Idaho, on the western side of the Tetons. Numerous elk use the valley as grazing range during the winter.
Just over Teton Pass in Idaho is Grand Targhee Resort where we really had fun going up the back of the Grand Tetons on the chair lift in the middle of summer. Great fun and beautiful views.
We stayed at the Amangani hotel on the Gros Ventre butte just to the west of Jackson. It’s a true Aman hotel and it’s only one of two in the US. It's pretty difficult to find fault with anything about Amangani. The location is absolutely beautiful, perched on the butte overlooking a beautiful valley (with ranches and cattle) along with Jackson Hole and the Tetons in the distance. Overall, a very memorable stay at this Aman property. We have stayed there in both winter and summer and it is great. Can’t wait to get back.
There’s so much to do there which involves every thing from horseback riding and fly fishing to traveling to Yellowstone and The Grand Teton National Parks and much more…
All in all a trip to the Jackson Hole area is a great way to spend some time in The Big Sky Country. Highly recommended!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Takayama, Japan Alps

Takayama Gifu is a city in the mountainous Hida region that is part of the Japan Alps National Park. It has retained a traditional look as few other Japanese cities have, especially its beautifully preserved old town. We were in Nagoya and so we got the chance to visit Takayama for a couple of days and were really able to see old Japan.
From Nagoya, we got on a direct train that takes about two and a half hours to get to Takayama. It wasn't a  Shinkansen, but it was a smooth and easy ride that is typical of Japanese trains. It arrived at the Takayama Station about 10 minutes on foot from historic district of San-machi Suji.
Takayama is known as the Little Kyoto of the Mountains since it was built and modeled after Kyoto around the end of the 16th century. The high altitude and separation from other areas of Japan kept the area fairly isolated though, allowing Takayama to develop its own culture over a roughly 300-year period.
We found the streets in San-machi Suji to be narrow and very clean with tiny canals on both sides that used to be used for fire prevention, washing clothes and dumping snow in the winter. Behind the canals on both sides of the street are one and two story shops and homes made of the dark local wood. It’s beautiful old Japan. San-machi Suji also has beautiful old merchant’s mansions that have Takayama’s famous wooden lattices that show the elegant influence of Kyoto.
There’s a lot to see and do in Takayama itself, but a little out of town by bus or a fairly long walk, is the Hida no Sato or the Hida Folk Village. It’s an open air museum that has more than 30 old thatched and shingled farmhouses and buildings from other parts of the region that show how farmers and artisans used to live in the Hida Mountains. The buildings are 100-500 years old, filled with furniture and really give an idea of what it was like to live in them in the old days.
What made this trip was our stay in the Nagase Ryokan, a traditional inn that has been going for about 250 years. It’s a renovated merchant’s house and is filled with antiques. Each room has views of perfect little miniature gardens with waterfalls and streams. Also, there's Kyoto-style cuisine that’s served on beautiful lacquerware and ceramics that are brought to your room for breakfast and dinner each day.
All in all, Takayama is a wonderful place to visit and it gave us a good view of old Japan. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sausalito 4th of July

Sausalito has what we think is the best local, small town 4th of July celebration in Marin County.
The parade began at 2nd and Main St in Old Town and went down Bridgeway, then Caledonia all the way to Dunphy Park on the waterfront.  The fun started with Bands, Floats, Politicians, Clowns, Acrobats, Flowers, Balloons, with 90+ year-old Sausalito resident Elmo Maggiora as Grand Marshal.  
At Dunphy Park there was live music all day, including Paul Robinson and Friends and Curtis Lawson.  There were family games, and food was provided by local non-profits.
Later that night it was time for the fireworks at Gabrielson Park. Food and beverages were there and Fred McCarty and Co provided the music.
The music was good, the food and drink tasty and the fireworks were great.
A Good time was had by all.  Highly recommended!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nikko, Japan

Downtown Nikko
We wanted to take a day trip outside of Tokyo and Nikko was the perfect place to go. Nikko is a beautiful area, the land of the shoguns. Especially honored here is Tokgugawa Ieyasu, who the famous novel Shogun by James Clavell was based on. The Toshogu Shrine was built in Ieyasu’s honor in the 1700s and his remains are still in the mausoleum in Nikko. The name Nikko means sunlight and it warmed us well on our cold winter trip there.

We didn’t take the Tobu Spacia train from Asakusa, but instead took a JR shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo station with a change in Utsunomiya. It took about the same time as the Tobu but the price worked out well since we both had JR Passes. There’s nothing like riding a Japanese shinkansen train. Smooth and comfortable.

The first sight you see as you get near the shrines is the vermillion Sacred bridge over the Diyagwa River. It was built in 1636 and for over 300 years only the shogun and his nobles were allowed to cross it. Now you can, for ¥500.

Our explorations began with going through the Yomeimon Gate  leading to The Toshogu shrine. it's the burial place of the famous Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and the most extravagant building here. Ieyasu was buried here immediately after his death, but the present complex was built in 1634 on the order of his grandson Iemitsu. The shrine took 2 years to complete with the efforts of 15,000 workers.

After climbing two flights of steps we reached the Sacred Stable, housing a sacred white horse. The most famous symbol here is the carving of the three wise monkeys, who "hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil". Stables often kept and had monkeys since they were thought to protect horses from disease. These sculptural  monkeys are considered the protectors of the sacred horse.

The trip to Nikko was an interesting excursion from Tokyo on the shinkansen… a great day trip and well worth it. Highly recommended. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Elephanta Island, Mumbai

Taj Palace Hotel and Tower, Gateway of India
Elephanta Island or Gharapuri (literally "the city of caves") has caves that are one of the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Mumbai city. It is a lovely experience that’s definitely a must do if you’re visiting Mumbai.

The best way to get there is to take an early boat from the Gateway of India jetty on the Apollo Bunder for a delightful 1-hour ride across the harbor. There are great views of the Taj Palace Hotel, the naval dockyards, nearby islands and colorful ferryboats.

Once there it’s a long steep climb to the caves up steps that are lined with stalls selling all the usual trinkets and snacks. At least stopping at the stalls can give you a break from the long climb up the stairs to the temples. It’s worth it though…

The Elephanta Caves are the home of Lord Shiva and a perfect example of Hindu cave culture in the Arabian Sea. It is situated about 10 km (6 mi) from Mumbai on the east side of the harbor.  It owes its name to an enormous stone elephant found there by Portuguese navigators that’s no longer there. The elephant was cut into pieces and removed to Mumbai and put together again. Today it's the the stone guardian of Jijamata Udyaan, a zoo and garden in Mumbai.

There are a lot of interesting sculptured panels there with Shiva as the main attraction in most of them. The only sculpture not damaged by the Portuguese soldiers, who used the panels for shooting practice, is the central Trimurti or the three headed Shiva.

While returning to Mumbai, the view of the Taj Palace and Gateway of India with the sunset in the background is an exceptionally beautiful way to end the day. The trip is perfect for people who want to be away from the noise and crowds of Mumbai and have a peaceful and natural experience. Highly recommended!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Haunted City of Bhangarh

A haunted city, lost in time is the city of Bhangarh in the Alwar district of Rajasthan. Bhangarh was once a flourishing town of 10,000 homes but that was nearly 400 years ago. It was a beautiful city with many temples and fine houses. History seems to indicate that the city was abandoned virtually overnight.

There are two legends that says how the city was abandoned and cursed… The first says that a local holy man was asked for permission to build a city on the his property and permission was granted. He warned though that the city must never grow so big or its buildings so tall that it cast a shadow that would touch the holy man while he prayed.

Sacred Cow
Of course, the city grew to match the wealth and desires of its rulers. One day, the city's shadow touched the holy man. At that very moment the sky grew dark, rumbling was heard and the ground began to shake. The citizens, realizing what was happening, grabbed what they could and fled for their lives, never to return… the end of Bhangarh!

The second legend tells of a battle waged between the queen, and a wicked Tantric sorcerer. He set a magical web in which to catch her but with her agility she escaped every time.

After the last battle the queen finally lost her temper and turned a glass bottle containing magic oil into a rock and flung it towards the hilltop temple, where the sorcerer sat. He tried summoning his power to deflect the missile but failed, though not before cursing the city.

The queen and her people, fearing the worst, spent the night hastily moving her treasures to a new palace in Ajabgarh. Their caution was judged sensible because in the morning a storm leveled the city… the end of Bhangarh!

The truth is that  after the Mughal empire weakened in the 1720’s, Bhangarh slowly diminished in population, and when the famine of 1783 occurred the town was abandoned and has remained in ruins ever since.

People who visit Bhangarh today say there is still a haunted feeling in the air that makes them uneasy, so it seems that the curse worked.  It may be scary but it’s a great place to see. We loved it

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Maps Are Beautiful Stories

The World's Largest Online Map Store!Maps are beautiful stories. When I look at a map, I imagine where I have been and the adventures I will have in the future.

When I lived in Cambodia, I had a map of the world on my dining room wall. It was the greatest way to get conversations going when my Cambodian friends visited. They would tell me about Cambodia and could point out the spots they knew as well as tell me about their travels and their dreams.

Most of my Cambodian friends had not been to the United States so having the big map on the wall to show them where I was from and even how far away it was always gave us many topics of conversation.

Stories evolve from maps. Imagination soars and it gives all of us a familiarity with the world which helps us understand each other better.

The World's Largest Online Map Store!

Whenever I meet someone and they tell me where they are from, I imagine a map of the world in my head and pinpoint where they came from. It gives us a common place to begin knowing and understanding each other.

While traveling we all have our GPS, Google print outs and talking car telling us where to turn but having a map to look at the long view gives me a sense of ownership of my travels. I can look ahead and study. Laying a big map out on a table and tracing the road with your finger is an adventure in itself.

A fun thing to do with the kids is create a giant map of the world in your back yard. Have them take trips to new places and have them tell you about them. It promotes an exciting reading opportunity too!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Raffles Singapore

The small island of Singapore is an assortment of contrasting cultures. It's easy to be overwhelmed by Orchard Road's wall-to-wall shopping malls, but you also can take a break at Chinatown's immense Buddha Tooth Temple or Hindu shrines draped with marigold garlands in little India.

Raffles Grill for Holiday Dinner
A great place to stay if one is lucky enough to be in Singapore is the Raffles Hotel. It’s a colonial-style hotel and is one of the world's most famous. Opened in 1899, it was named after Singapore's founder Sir Stamford Raffles. It is a hotel that is loaded with history and is more legend than hotel after having been immortalized in the novels of Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling.

Long Bar
After going through hard times in world war II, Raffles was closed in 1989 and with careful repair, reopened in 1991. Raffles was restored to the grand style of its heyday and all rooms were converted to suites with teakwood floors, handmade carpets, and 14-foot ceilings. The storied Long Bar, where the Singapore Sling cocktail drink was invented was reopened at the same time. It was patronized over the decades by a host of VIP’s, including Ernest Hemingway and Jackie Kennedy among others.
Boat Quay
A great place to go is Boat Quay a historical quay that is situated upstream from the mouth of the Singapore River. It once was the busiest part of the old Port of Singapore, handling three quarters of all shipping business during the 1860s. Though serving maritime trade is no longer Boat Quay's main role, the shophouses and go-downs have been carefully preserved and now house various bars, pubs and restaurants. It’s a good place to have some fun.
Singapore is one of the most enjoyable cities in Southeast Asia. It's a fascinating place that will draw you back time and again to experience the divergent cultures, a wonderful metro system, Sentosa Island, wonderful food- hawker’s stalls and so much more.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Romani Tinsmith in Rajasthan

The Rom people (Gypsies) originated in the Northwestern region of India and have since moved around the world. They were called "Gypsies" because they were mistakenly believed to have come from Egypt. Many Rom people traditionally work as craftsmen and are blacksmiths, cobblers, and tinsmiths. They are all over the world now but are genetically related to tribes in the Himalayas, Pakistan and India.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Japanese Holiday

We were in Tokyo for the holidays and the experience was wonderful. The Japanese people totally grab onto the Christmas tradition. Santas, reindeer, sleighs, lights and happiness is everywhere. Look one way and it’s Italian social groups doing a wonderful job in lighting and designing thousands of colored bulbs. Look the other and it's the Ginza.

Swarming Crowd
Colored lights are everywhere with swarming groups of young people flooding the streets in wild holiday costumes. The costumed groups are looking for and finding fun and excitement on the Ginza.

As we surged with the crowds we were eagerly anticipating our Christmas Dinner that night at the New York Grill in Shinjuku. The restaurant is in the Park Hyatt Hotel that Lost in Translation with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson was filmed in a few years ago.

Australian Singers
Walking in the steps of Bill Murray, we arrived that night at the NY Grill all set for a special holiday feast. They had a five-course Christmas menu that started off with Seared Prime Ahi with Snow Crab and Ossetra Caviar. We proceeded to Goose Liver Confit, Steamed Rock Lobster, Yamagata Tenderloin and finally finished with Hazelnut Caramel Mousse with five spice Ice cream. That was one fine meal. A special treat afterward was a group of Australian singers that serenaded us with holiday greats well into the night. We made our way back to the Maronouchi hotel using a cab whose automatic doors opened for us to get in. We called it a night with visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Great Tohoku Earthquake

Let’s help Japan with her Earthquake and Tsunami. Would ordinarily say let’s travel there and spend some of our tourist dollars to help the people but it seems like it will be quite a long time until Japan is receiving guests again. Thankfully, the world is coming to the aid of the resilient Japanese people.

 Click here to help:

In 1989 I experienced the 6.9 Loma Prieta quake in SF California. It was so powerful my Victorian wooden house swayed like a palm tree and I couldn’t stay on my feet. It was brutal, but compared to the 9.1 in Japan the Bay Area was relatively lucky. Even though we lost the Bay Bridge, the Cypress Structure, with 63 killed, 3,757 injured and 3,000 to 12,000 homeless, Loma Prieta was dwarfed by the Japanese quake. The Japanese quake was 30 times stronger with 100 times the ground motion and 900 times the energy release. The Japanese Prime Minister said that the quake catastrophe is second only to the damage done to the nation in World War Two.

I’ll end my post on a bittersweet note remembering some beautiful Japanese places we’ve seen. Serene Fuji San and Takayama calm my mind. Japanese people have the will and durability to bring their country back from the ravages of the tectonic plates. We must do all we can do to help them. It will take time but Japan will return to Serenity.