Travels Outside the 48 States
Turks & Caicos May 2005 (Provo)
Cook Islands July 2002 (Rarotonga, Aitutaki)
Fiji June 2000 (Matamanoa)
Hawaii August 1999 - Maui
French Polynesia October 1997 (Moorea, Bora Bora)
Singapore/Malaysia June 1995
Japan May 2009 (Tokyo, Yokohama, Mito, Kyoto). This was a first for our daughter to travel overseas and therefore the first time to meet her great grandparents. The group consisted of my wife and her parents, our daughter and of course me. The primary objective was to visit Japanese temples and other attractions and to see family.
This was a scary time - the swine flu had broken out in the US, and Japan took measures to mitigate the exposure. Other countries were taking precautions against anyone coming from the US - a rather unusual turn of events.
Pictured here were our visit to Asakusa, Kamakura, Kyoto (Golden Pavilion pictured here, among others), Nara (deer feeding), grandparents and my cousins. While my grandparents have come to the US, my cousins have not. I would love for them to one day visit the US. By the way, if you plan to stay somewhere in downtown Tokyo, the Park Hotel is highly recommended!
We went on a 4 week trip to Germany in the summer of 1992. Because East Germany had only united with Germany less than 3 years prior to this time, the East German side was still left relatively untouched. Just outside the Wall at Checkpoint Charlie, there were street vendors selling what they claimed to be parts of the actual wall. We saw the old, tiny East German cars (Trebbies?) in which 4 big people we packed in like sardines and going on the Autobahn. We saw Pottsdam, a beautiful castle with jewels throughout the halls. We saw Schloss Neuschwanstein, the castle that Disney's Sleeping Beauty was based. And Wies, a beautiful church.
This is also when we met my penpal in Berlin, met some soon to be in-law relatives in parts of "West" Germany, and had some amazing German food. We also took day trips into France (Strassbourg to be exact), Holland and Austria (we went up a mountain on a gondola in Austria only find out that the gondola was done for the day, so we hiked down the mountain... a wonderful experience, actually).
We were rather naive and with not a care in the world, frankly. And that just made for fun times.
Of course, now that I am in the "professional working world," taking 4 weeks off is simply not possible anymore.
A trip to see family, as well as see Kyoto and Tokyo from a much more "mature" (i.e., not a kid anymore) perspective. It was a nice long vacation, where I could eat all the wonderful food without worrying about getting fat, and walk and sweat in the humid, warm summer and see once again what I saw in my childhood. The old neighborhood was the same, but I saw Tokyo with a different perspective. Where was I when OJ was driving his white Bronco? In Japan, watching the slow chase on TV and wondering what the big deal was.
The benefit of having family being on business trips is that you can tag along... and that's what I did. I saw SIngapore for the first time and fell in love with it (inlcuding the heat). The food was great, the attractions were fun (including Sentosa Island.. where else do you get to see the "world's tallest man made water fall?"), and it was such a unique experience! We then drove into Malacca, Malaysia, where it seemed like they wanted to replicate (failing miserably) all the great things about Singapore. It was still a terrific cultural experience! The hotel staff apparently became really good friends with my father, and so they were treating me like royalty. I rode on the back of a motorcycle and saw parts of the area (what was I thinking?). I wish now that I took the offer to go see the beaches there.... that will definitely be on the list if I ever get a chance to go back.
This trip is what started my quest for the perfect tropical beach. Moorea and Bora Bora... they were absolutely life changing. There is something in the air that makes you feel so relaxed. We tried snorkeling for the first time, we saw Tahitian dance for the first time (Tiki Village is awesome!), and we experienced truly great service at the concierge. The hotel in Moorea at the time was the Moorea Beachcomber Parkroyale. It is now an Intercontinental Hotel. The dolphin pictured here is from Dolphin Quest.
In Bora Bora, the catamaran ride into the sunset was unbelievably beautiful, especially because we glided ever so gently on the smooth waters. Our standards for vacations was set on this trip.
This is the year that El Nino struck the world, so the weather was a bit weird (cold and stormy at one point... we were delayed a day into Bora Bora).
Yokohama, Tokyo, Nikko, Kyoto, Nara... we did a lot on this trip to Japan. This was my wife's first time in Japan, so we crammed all that we could. We hung out at the Sega amusement park in Odaiba and experienced the cashierless restaurant for the first time. We also met with family members, saw some temples and shrines and experienced the crowded trains during rush hour. We ate throughout the trip (some things my wife did not care for). For some reason, the sushi boat restaurant in Nara sticks out as a fun, unforgettable experience.
We would return in Japan several years later, this time with our daughter in tow.
The search for the perfect beach began with Maui. We had set the bar high with French Polynesia, and we were anxious to find it. We didn't find it in Maui, but we did find a wonderful hotel. At the time, the hotel was simply called the Kea Lani Hotel. It is now part of the Fairmont chain. We trekked all over Maui, but my personal favorites were: Mama's Fish House, Mt. Haleakala, and the Old Lahaia Luau. While swimming with turtles was awesome, I didn't care for the boat ride on the bumpy waves. Molokini Crater was a disappointment, especially after experiencing the Tahitian Islands. Nonetheless, it was a great vacation. I also slept through most of the Road to Hana. Apparently, I was too exhausted from work that I needed the slow ride down the windy path to relax me.
What an experience! We spent 10 days on Matamanoa Island, where there is only on hotel, and a handful of bungalows. We made friends from all over the world, most notably friends from New Zealand. We tried kava, did hermit crab races (the crabs are everywhere), and most importantly, on several occasions, we had the beautiful beach to ourselves. The snorkeling was amazing (I also saw a sea snake...) my wife went shark diving, night diving, etc.... I went to a nearby island village for one afternoon.
On our way back, Seko, our activities guide, took us to his house in Suva (a boat ride away) where we met his Japanese wife. We also did some shopping there before our flight back. This was when there was a coup in Fiji. We saw military personnel with machine guns stationed throughout the city. Although we were advised not to go to Fiji that year, we did anyway, and it was one of the best decisions we made. There are so many more islands to explore in Fiji, each with a unique beach. We'll have to go back... for now, the quest fo the perfect beach had a contender against the Tahitian Islands.
We went for the World Expo, and stayed for the castles and friends. The World Expo (kangaroo burgers, anyone?) was in Hanover, where we happened to have some family. We also went to see the castle where Martin Luther once resided (a wonderful castle, a beautiful view from there).
Talk about an adventure. The search for the perfect beach ended us up for the Mayan experience. From San Pedro, we went on excursions to see a couple of Mayan ruins (the Sunken Crocodile comes to mind), we hung out with manatees, and we snorkeled/BBQ'd on Goffs Caye. We then stayed at the mainland, just a few minutes from Xunantunich. Here, we went horseback riding into a giant cave where the only things you had to prevent from falling several feet down were flashlights and each other (and bats). We also swam with nurse sharks and rays. And there were tons of cicadas (love them!). Quite an experience, certainly a wonderful departure from the Tahitian idea of the perfect beach.
The quest took us this time to Curacao, which at the time was still ruled by the Dutch. Known as one of the ABC islands, this was a great place to snorkel and get some sun with the big lizards. We of course did the tour of the Curacao distillery, even though we don't drink the stuff. The highlight was the Ostrich Farm, where we got to hold a baby ostrich, feed a herd of ostriches, ride one, and have them run like mad all around us. A unique experience.
Black pearls (like the Tahitian ones), giant clams that are six feet in width, and giant hermit crabs that can break coconuts... and Aitutaki, one of the most beautiful islands in the world! Could this be the perfect beach? It's up there, rivaling the Tahitian Islands. We spent our first part of the vacation on Rarotonga, where we went to their cultural center. But the real vacation started when we flew into Aitutaki and hung out at the Pearl Resort. Along the lagoon, we experienced some awesome snorkeling and had fun times watching the Cook Island version of their dance. We were literally in the middle of the ocean, and we were standing where the water was around chest high. Tropical fish were everywhere, and just a bit further away were many giant clams that looked big enough to fit a person in.
We wanted the perfect beach, but we started off with something else altogether. Here, we began our trip from San Jose, and onto the Cloud Forest where we talked hundreds of feet above the trees, and later on zip lined through them. Zip lining was still a rarity when we did this, although now you can do it pretty much anywhere where there are two trees. We also stayed in Guanacaste and spent a day in the Buena Vista Lodge, where we did some horseback riding, hot baths (many hot springs there), and did even more zip lining. We then took a trip to a local rodeo where we saw some "bullfighting." This was quite interesting - drunk people were basically running around on the floor of the arena while a bull was let loose and chased them all around. It's not the professional stuff that you immediately imagine. The beach here was not perfect, but we caveat this to say that we were on the Pacific side of the country, and I understand that the Caribbean side is very nice. It just means that we have to go back to Costa Rica one day.
This was not a trip to find the perfect vacation, but rather to see family. It was rain season, and I could not have picked a wetter time to be there. There were big storms one after another, but it didn't keep me from making my trips into the Yokohama harbor and downtown Tokyo.
The quest for the perfect beach is back on! After having been on the catamaran in Bora Bora, we just had to do it again, this time in Provo. The catamaran was as relaxing and enjoyable as it could be. So, we took more trips - Outback Jack was a lot of fun because the guide dressed up as a pirate (we saw later on Bridgette Mardquardt's show that she had the same experience), but most importantly, the waters were crystal clear and really warm. The colors of the water were simply amazing. We also took a day trip into Middle Caicos and saw a cave there. The only down side is that mosquitoes were everywhere, but frankly this was not the only time that we were eaten alive by them (Aitutaki was the same). This once again rivaled the perfect beach.
French Polynesia July 2006 (Taha'a) We went back to the French Polynesia because these islands still rank among the best we've ever been. We spent a couple of nights at the Radisson in Papeete, where there was black sand on the beach. We then took our flight to Taha'a, the Vanilla Island and spent the week at Hotel La Pirogue, a hotel situated on a small motu less than 5 minutes away from the Taha'a mainland by boat. The place was opened by a Swedish and French couple (if I remember correctly), and they had two little girls who commuted to school by boat everyday. We spent our time gazing out of our bungalow and seeing time practially freeze; we took a sailboat tour around the island, and we did a tour of the mainland with a trip to a protected coral reef just a few yards away from the Pearl Resport. We saw stingrays gliding through the smooth water everyday, and saw the sunset over Bora Bora. At night, we occasionally heard hard rain coming down to clean the island, and in the morning we were welcomed by the bright, hot polynesian sun. We also had a crab that made a home just under our bungalow, and we watched him everyday. We were relaxed to the point of boredom, a perfect vacation.
Mexican Riviera Cruise November 2007 This was our first ever (and so far the only) cruise that we've been on. We boarded the Golden Princess for a weeklong trip down the Mexican Riviera (Puerto Vallarta, Maztlan, Cabo San Lucas). We sort of got caught up in all the jewelry craze that was going on in the ship, but otherwise, we enjoyed our activities, which included horseback riding in Puerto Vallarta, shopping in the Gold Zone in Matazlan and walking around the shops in Cabo (OK, so not exactly a unique Mexico vacation). We saw churches, shows, etc., but frankly, the need to depart the ship at set times and having to come back by a set time was not our style. That said, it was great to experience cruising.
Hawaii May 2007 (Maui, Kaua'i) We went to Maui on a family event, and so my mother came with us, at least for a part of the trip. We also met up with our cousin and her daughter and took them around Maui. We spent the last evening on Maui at the Old Lahaina Luau and watched the show. We then flew to Kauai and made the Sheraton Kauai our base for our daily excusions. Among them was a snorkel trip as shown above.
Germany Oct/Nov 2009 Another trip to Germany - the family went ahead of me and spent some time on a farm on Austria, and took a trip around Germany including Munich and Hanover. I met with them in Essen, a city at the time was getting ready to become the featured European cultural city of the year (they apparently rotate).
We had a great time at restaurants in Dusseldorf (e.g., Zum Schiffhen), and we also took a day trip to a number of castles in the area.
The local food was awesome - some of the best German foods were at restaurants in smaller towns. In fact, I would say that German food is one of the most underrated foods around. It is so good - the meats, sauces (curry wurst: it's all about the curry), red cabbage, dumplings, the cakes, chocolate, etc....
It was cold in Germany though - when the family was in Munich, it was snowing - and in Essen, it was so cold that it went right to our bones. We Calfornians are not used to that weather.
Please click on the thumnails to see the photos.