Aviation Expo 2020

During all the years I traveled from one airshow to another, I’ve always played with the idea of a “Dream airshow”. If time didn’t matter, what would it look like? What aircraft, demos and jet teams would attend. 2020 is looking more and more like a year without airshows due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, I decided to put together “Aviation Expo 2020”, a virtual airshow based on images from my photo archive. There’s aircraft I wish I could add to this, but I haven’t gotten around to shooting them yet. But after searching my vast archive, I did manage to round up a very impressive group of aircraft. Here’s my adventure from “Aviation Expo 2020”

After parking the rental car, I geared up and made my way to the staging area for the morning photo tour. The participants were hand pick and I was lucky enough to be selected. The tarmac was laid out perfectly. There were no tents, Porto potty’s, food vendors or anything around the aircraft to clutter up the background while shooting. Canopy covers were removed and everyone in the group was respectful, courteous and professional. Enjoying the spectacular morning light and the historic aircraft, time quickly passed, and the main gates were open and flying soon began.

Before the morning humidity burnt off, the flight activities started with a vapor contest. Each participating aircraft got 5 passes to make the most impressive vapor. Including prop and wingtip vertices and the showstopper, the full cone. The USN Super Hornet demo team with multiple cones, was the mornings clear winner.

Following the vapor contest, there was going to be only 4 heritage flights. But with so many qualified pilots and variety of aircraft, it quickly got out of hand with all the number of different combinations. But of all the amazing formations, we didn’t get to see a “Thunderbolt Flight” with a P-47 and a A-10.

After the heritage flight fiasco was over, it was time for the photo pass challenge. The challenge was split into two categories, single and two ship. Needless to say, Dale Snodgrass smashed his opponents with grace and style and Steve Hinton came in a very close second. The twin Thunderbolts from Tennessee easily won the two-ship class.

“Aviation Expo 2020” was the largest warbird gathering in history. Aircraft from World War Two to Vietnam was present and flying. The sound of all those historic Engines running at once was unforgettable. There were a few jet warbirds too and they didn’t disappoint. The show set a new world record for having the largest mass takeoff of warbirds since World War Two.

Now it was time for the show headliners. One by one, the jet teams took to the air and performed. The USAF Thunderbirds were up first. Followed by the RCAF Snowbirds, then the USN Blue Angels with Fat Albert doing a JETO takeoff. The Starfighters team got back together for this show. Flying from “across the pond” was the Breitling jet team and the RAF Red Arrows for the grand finale.

There was a short pause in the show come late afternoon. During this time everyone walk the static aircraft and got a bite to eat before the evening show.

As the sun made its slow journey toward the horizon, fuel tanks were topped off again, engines started up for the final performances of the day. It was amazing and the light was magical.

Stay safe and keep busy,

Steven

Detroit’s island Getaway

Due to the growing global COVID-19 pandemic, my traveling plans are put on hold for while. And like many other travel bloggers, we are going on a virtual trip. I want to show you a place that is very near and dear to my heart, the island park of Belle Isle. If someone told me, I had to pick one place to take photos for the rest of my life, Belle Isle would be a strong contender. Even though I strongly dislike Michigan, I do have an infinity for Downtown Detroit. The best way I can express my feelings, is with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross amazing quote about beautiful people. I just substitute places for people.

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

And within this beautiful city, hides a twinkling gem out shining its surroundings. The island park known as Belle isle. The always Photogenic Anna Scripps Conservatory, the soothing sounds of the James Scott Fountain along with the proud standing Nancy Brown Peace Carillon are a few of the attractions on Belle Isle. I’m not going to bore you with some long-winded narrative explaining the history of the island. But what I do want to share, is what Belle Isle means to me, a few of my projects and images that I have captured there along how I use Belle Isle as my photographic classroom.

Map of Belle Isle

Belle Isle has always been a place of peace and serenity for me. A haven where I could go and forget about all the madness and endless complications of the world. And when life shows up with a grin on its face and deals me a hand of shitty cards, I have found that going to Belle Isle offers me a form of mental sanctuary that I have not found anywhere else. Even though the island is technically connected via the MacArthur Bridge, I’ve always felt by going there I could get away from Michigan. Even during my darkest and trying times, Belle Isle has away been the needed distraction to help me cope with life on life’s terms.

Detroit’s island gateway has been home to a few of my blog projects. Off the top of my head, I can name at least 4, if you include this one.

  • Race Cars on water. A little adventure about trying to capture a shot of a racing hydroplane that I had envisioned for years, along with practicing my hand-held panning technique.
  • Knowledge or gear. My experience driven post that ask a simple question; “What’s more important, having knowledge of photography or having Professional gear?”
  • Passion. The post that started my “Exploring My Creativity” My personal journey into what makes me creative.

During my lifelong journey into photography, I’ve visited Belle Isle countless times over the pass 16 years. And has captured some of my favorite and unforgettable images. In late May, Belle Isle is transformed from my loved getaway island, to a world class race track to host the Grand Prix of Detroit. During the weekend it’s held, Friday is the day to go. It’s a day of testing and practice for all the car classes. As well as you can venture to various grandstands and the paddock for free.

The racing of the Unlimited Hydroplanes during the APBA Gold Cup is always brimming over with fast paced action. The Belle Isle side of the river offers a bunch of exclusive shooting locations to catch the intense pace of the race. From up on the MacArthur bridge to the down low perspective of the fishing pier, it’s always exhilarating to see the untamed power and speed of the hydroplane.

Many years the Gold Cup manages to get the Navy to bring one of their Super Hornet demonstration team to perform during the race weekend. It’s unique venue to see the Super Hornet get run through its paces. The is flown much close than normal due to the tight confines of the city. Where the sound of the twin General Electric F414s are noticeably much louder.

I can’t remember how I found out about Belle Isle, but I do remember my first time there. After months of saving up, I was finally able to purchase my first DSLR, Canons Digital Rebel. Those days I was so excited about photography, I try to shoot the whole 900-acre island in a half hour. As I grew as a photographer, I learn to use Belle Isle as my testing grounds for new gear. It’s a place I can go that has a consistent setting. I know what’s there and there’s no surprises. As well as going to the conservatory, I know I’m going have a ton of colorful subjects without worry of Mother Nature being nasty.

The conservatory is my classroom, it’s where I developed and continue to nurture my creative eye. It was there that I discovered my walk through then shoot technique. Were I would go through the conservatory, gear still packed up. Walk from room to room, looking at the light and how it hits things. And all the while asking myself “What is the light doing? What do I want to show?” Portrait or landscape? Once I’ve made a complete lap, I then go through again and shoot the subjects that stood out to me.

There were days that I would give myself photo assignments. For example, concentrating on color, focusing on texture & light, and playing with depth of field. There are assignments I still want to do, like portrait format only along with shoot just one color. Both should be challenging and fun. As a result of my assignments, it had taught me many things, such as to focus in and appreciate the tiniest of details, to celebrate color and to know what to emphasize.

Belle Isle, my little getaway island, my project place and my inspiring classroom. After all this is over, I can’t wait to return to see what I’ll stumble upon next.

Stay safe and busy,

Steven

February’s Adventure: Antelope Canyon 2.0

This adventure actually started back in August of 2018. While in Las Vegas for the Star Trek convention, I decided to drag Tony, a very close friend of mine to Page, Arizona to see the dream like colors and shapes of Antelope Canyon. And after about a four- and half-hour drive through the desert, we were finally at Antelope Canyon. And to my surprise, all the tours for that day were sold out. In fact, they were sold out up to October, if I remember correctly. I learned the valuable lesson of what happens when you don’t do any research on where your going. The trip wasn’t a total waste, we got to see Glen Canyon dam as well as Horseshoe bend. I had my camera with me, but I wasn’t happy with my images I took. Since then, Antelope Canyon has been on my bucket list and wanted to return and capture better images of Horseshoe Bend.

Antelope Canyon Friday-1
Illustration by: Jean-Louis Rheault

So, as a birthday gift to myself, I was going to see Antelope Canyon along with revisiting Horseshoe Bend. When I made my reservations, I was going to fly into Flagstaff, Arizona on Friday, drive up to Page where Antelope Canyon is, do two tours at the canyon on Saturday and then fly back to Detroit on Sunday. The week leading up to my trip, I had been checking the weather for Page. And this is how I know Mother Nature is a Bitch. The one and only day I was going to go to the desert, it was going to rain. Really?! And to top it off, Sunday’s weather looks great. Kens Tours is the organization that runs the tours at Antelope Canyon. According to their website, tours could be canceled due to rain. Come Tuesday, I checked the forecast again. Being that the weekend was still far away, I was hoping that the forecast would change for the better. Nope! Was I going to fly all the way there just to watch the rain from my hotel room? I decided to wait and check again come Wednesday.

Antelope Canyon Friday-2

Unfortunately, the forecast hadn’t changed by Wednesday afternoon. And I felt it would be a real shame to travel all the way there and not get to see the reason for the trip in the first place. So, I jumped on to Orbitz and changed my flight back to Detroit to Monday; along with car rental and hotel stay. I then booked two tours for Sunday.

 

Friday

The adventure started at 5 in the morning with some last-minute packing, a quick shower, got dressed, loaded up the car and off to Detroit metro airport. The normal routine of checking in, getting through the TSA, finding my gate and board the aircraft, went smoothly. And the Airbus A320 I was flying on seem tiny compared to its larger sibling, the A350. Which I flew on during my trip to Japan. As we taxied out to the runway to take off, guess what’s on final approach on the runway next to us? A Delta A350. Such a magnificent aircraft.

There is something about flying and staring out the window I find it increases my mental wellness. All of the everyday emotional and mental baggage falls away and things of real important are brought back to focus. Making memories with love ones, being thankful for having caring family and friends, and being able to travel and experiencing new adventures.

The night before my trip, I was checking to see if everything was in order, flights, car rental along with hotel. Got a stop in Denver for about an hour before switching planes and then off to Flagstaff, Arizona. From There, I’m going to drive north to Page. While looking at the route from Flagstaff to Page, I’m going to go by the south rim of the Grand Canyon. So, the plan is the stop by the Canyon for a while before traveling on to Page. I don’t want to stay to long because there is a chance to see the sun set at Horseshoe bend.  As well as I don’t want to try to find my way around at night if I don’t have to.

my route on friday

Switch planes in Denver and made it down to Flagstaff. The airport there is so small compared to Detroit and Denver. It has just one runway. The plane taxis up to the terminal and you get off the aircraft via gangway and walk inside the little but cozy terminal. One side is departures, the other is arrivals and one luggage carousel nestled in the corner. Got my luggage and car rental at the same time. I got out my cord for my phone and started up the “Road bitch” and was off to visit the Grand Canyon.

After a brief hour and half trip there, park the car, geared up my 5DSR and made my way over to the rim. The site of the Grand Canyon cannot be captured on camera alone. The massive sense of scale along with the quietness. It’s beautiful, breathtaking, epic…and totally eroded. Lol. But image wise, I not only tried to find interesting images but yet try to get something unique. I did a lot of people watching and shot they’re interactions around the canyon. I also played around with a few HDR images.

Images are best viewed full size

Being mindful of the time, it was time to leave this colorful natural wonder of the world and head up to Page. Hopefully I’ll be there just in time to see the sun set at Horseshoe bend. However, two things stopped that from happening. The first one Is embarrassing to mention, but…I forgot where I parked the car! So, I wasted what seems like hours walking around hitting the panic button on the key fob looking for the god damn car. You would think that would work right?! Hit the button, hear the alarm and walk in that direction.  Well, I hit the button and heard nothing. Silence in the parking lot along with my growing frustration. Life lesson number 148, remember where you park the car. The key fob only works for a certain range and after 30 minutes of site seeing the Grand Canyon parking lot, I found the car.

Antelope Canyon Friday-5

The second delay was not my fault. In the car, sitting up the “Road Bitch”, google could not get a signal to start the navigation from the canyon up to Page. So, I figured, let’s go out in the way I came in and hopefully reacquire a stronger signal. And after about a half hour, the “Road Bitch” wanted me to make a u turn and head back where I came from. I could have kept going in that direction, but it was going to add another 52 minutes to an already two-hour trip. So, I whipped a shitty and headed back into the weak signal area. Thankfully, it didn’t lose its signal. But now, there was no way to make it up to Horseshoe bend in time to see the sunset. I did see it from the road, and it was a pretty one.

Halfway to Page, I remember that today is my mom’s birthday and I told her I was going to call and wish her a happy birthday. I didn’t want to call with google navigating. And by the time I would be at to the hotel and able to call, it would be close to 8 pm here but would be 10 pm her time. Thankfully, she was still up, and I was able to wish her a happy birthday along with stories of my travels. After her birthday call, I realize that I hadn’t eaten anything since switching planes in Denver airport well over 8 hours ago. I remember the last time I was here, there was a barbecue joint nearby, Big John’s Texas style barbecue. If you’re ever in the Page area and want BBQ, definitely hit them up. Good people and some tasty barbecue.

 

Saturday

Saturday’s forecast held true with overcast skies in the morning, then rain showers to steady rain for most of the afternoon. It was also my birthday. My only plans were to talk to family and friends, watch YouTube and Netflix, and just chill and do nothing. Heck, it is my vacation. Rest and relaxation, right?! But about 12 o’clock, I was getting antsy about doing nothing and not being out shooting. I know from all my years of photography; I’ve always told myself “Shoot the Light and not the Subjects”. Rainy days don’t offer much light. And if there is no light, there’s no subjects to shoot.

So, I grab my gear and go out, knowing that the light is going to be shit. And as soon as I walked outside…. It starts raining. I did some scouting around and found a great scenic view of Glen Canyon dam that was close by. I made my way over to the local Walmart, grabbed some snacks and a new charger cord for my iPad. And after about an hour or so of playing in the rain, I went back to the hotel. Later that night, I did venture out and found myself back at Big John’s BBQ for dinner.

After dinner, I rechecked the forecast for Sunday and it was looking very promising. My tours at Antelope Canyon was at 11:30 am and 3 pm. According to the forecast, it would be mostly cloudy from 10 to 12 and sunny for the rest of the afternoon. Which means the sky could be very dramatic with a mix of dark and light clouds on a blue background. I love taking pictures as a storm clears out. I figured the 11:30 tour would be 50/50 for good light, but the 3 pm tour was for sure looking like the best time for light. And the light is what is needed to show off the color and shapes of Antelope Canyon. So, it was off to bed with hopes that Mother Nature was going to play nice tomorrow.

Sunday

Am sure most photographers can relate to this. As soon as I awake, it was straight to the window to see what’s it doing out there. It was about 6:30 and it was light enough to see the clouds were clearing out and there was some blue-sky peeking through as well. I quickly got dressed, grabbed the camera bag and headed over the scenic spot to shoot Glen Canyon dam with a moody sky behind it. As soon as I got to the spot, I knew it was going to be a great weather day for Photography. The early light along with the moody sky really showed the colors and details of the rusty brown and earth tone rocks of the desert southwest.

Since Mother Nature was being so generous this morning, let’s pop on over to Horseshoe bend and see if I could take advantage of the morning light and sky. As I was driving over to the bend, the sun was covered up a bit with a low hanging clouds. But with the speed in which the clouds were moving, it would soon be flooding horseshoe bend and it was a race for me to get there. Doing the speed limit, I made my way there and paid for parking. I geared up again and speed walked my way to the rim of the bend. All the while glancing behind me to see if the sun was going to pop out before I got there. And in a matter of a few steps, Horseshoe bend lit up and I was there, speechless.

Images are best viewed full size

 

The first time I was at Horseshoe bend, it was late afternoon and cloudy. Made the scene flat and lifeless. The images were OK, but I knew there was a much better shot in the morning. I stayed there enjoying the incredible view for about an hour. I took a few more images as I walked up the trail to the parking lot. Along with this one, just look at that sky!

Antelope Canyon Sunday iPhone-1

I had some time to kill before my first tour at Antelope. It was back to the hotel for some breakfast. After eating, I headed back to the scenic lookout by Glen Canyon dam. My time there was limited but I still enjoyed the view and tried some different angles. From there, I made my way to the lower Antelope Canyon for my 11:30 tour. Check in time is 30 minutes before the tour. Once there and checked in, I spend the half hour browsing the gift shop and double checking everything to make sure I didn’t forget anything.

Images are best viewed full size

 

Come 11:30, it was announced the tour was going to start and for us to go to our assigned tour guides . And after going over the rules, we walked to the canyon entrance. To get to the canyon floor, there are 4 flights of stairs that takes you down 85 feet. Once there, the colors, the shapes and the light are simply magical. I knew it was going to be beautiful but oh my. Like everything in the desert southwest, the sense of scale is monumental. And trying to capture it properly was challenging. Due to the high contrast of strong light and dark shadows of the canyon walls along with the pace of the tour. There is a group both in front and behind you. You have limited time to see, compose and capture an image. So, I kept my head on a swivel and shot the light, colors and forms. It’s times like this, it’s so beneficial to know how to quickly switch camera functions without having to stop and see what you are doing.

Images are best viewed full size

 

Climbing out of the canyon after our tour was over, left me energized and charged. The intensity of the tour is so hard to put into words. It’s so beautiful and amazing. There were no sad faces leaving the canyon walking back to the gift shop. And I get to do it again at 3 o’clock! I found some swag in the gift shop that I couldn’t live without. And once again, I headed back to the hotel. Page is a small town, and everything is about 5 minutes away. Back at the hotel, it gave me time to get some water, swap out batteries and do some chipping. I did pretty good and now I know what to expect come Round 2.

Images are best viewed full size

 

During my second tour, talking with the tour guide, “And you get to see this every day?!” She replied, “Yeah and it doesn’t get old.” I told her if I lived around here, that they would get sick of me always showing up. The Tour guides and staff at Kens Tours are an amazing group of people. Stupefying and amazingly stunning landscape. Still all charged up over the amazing shooting opportunities. Oh my God, what a day!

Antelope Canyon Sunday iPhone-3

Monday

I woke up early and double checked the room before checking out. During the drive up to Page from the Grand Canyon on Friday, I pass by Little Colorado River Gorge Overlook. I pulled into a small parking area to take a few images. Unfortunately, the sun had set, and the gorge fell into shadow. It looked different from the Grand Canyon and would have made for some interesting photos.

 

I checked on google maps, the gorge is supposed to open at 8 am. Which would give me about an hour of shooting in the morning before heading up to Flagstaff for my return flight to Detroit. After an hour and half trip there with the sun slowly rising the whole way, to find it closed. What the hell? And to the right there is a sign stating, “Winter hours opens at 9 am”.  Which was no bueno. I had to be in Flagstaff at 10 for check in. Thanks, google maps. So, I continued to the little airport in Flagstaff.

Again, checking in, going through the TSA was routine but boarding was more enjoyable then normal. After your boarding group was called, you scan your ticket, walk out to the aircraft and walk up the gangway. With everyone on-board, we blasted out of Flagstaff and we soon landed in Phoenix after a brief 25-minute flight. I then switch planes for the 3-hour flight back to Detroit. With this done, I can now scratch off Antelope Canyon from my Bucket list.

 

Until next Adventure,

Steven

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Japan for the holidays

Even after a week of struggling with jet lag and returning to the mundane routine of work and life in Michigan, I still can’t believe that I flew over 6300 miles, spent the holidays with my sister and her family in Japan! That’s right, I’m international baby! Even while downloading all my images to my workstation, the memories of my time there are still so fresh and vibrant. Saying it was amazing is an understatement. Where do I begin!

Day one, The dreaded 13-hour flight

December 21, 2019, Friday afternoon after an easy half day of work, I got home to my apartment and started packing for my trip. I will not deny it, I was really dreading the 13 hour flight to Japan, non-stop flight from Detroit to Narita. This was going to be my first International flight as an adult. I love airplanes and flying, but what do you do for that long? I figured I stay up all night packing, watching YouTube, whatever it takes to stay up so I could sleep on the flight over. I was hoping to get at least 7 to 8 hours sleep on the flight and the few hours left, shouldn’t be a big deal. Sound plan in theory, right?! Well, I end up taking two 15 minute naps, using the timer on my phone. I would quickly doze off and no sooner the alarm sounded with little or no relief. About 6:30 am, I was struggling hard and knew sleep was going to win. So, I set an alarm for 8 am so I would still have enough time to shower and do any last-minute things. Within minutes, I was sound asleep. And before I knew it, was startled by the alarm.

I took a shower, got dressed, waited for my friend Tony to pick me up and give me a ride to the airport. Waiting in line in Detroit Metro airport, I found it funny that I was the only black guy in the international line. With my lack of sleep, I was nervous about the long 13 and a half hour flight ahead. But I was excited about flying on Delta’s new Flagship, the Airbus A350-900. Along with this will be my first time flying in Delta’s Premium Select. Which offers a wider seat with extra leg room, large headphones for the in-flight entertainment along with larger screens, premium regional meals, blanket and pillow along with a pair dope in flight house slippers. All wonderful amenities to make long haul flights more comfortable and less stressful.

OK, time to nerd out about the amazing Airbus A350! My seat was on the leading edge of the wing, seat A20. Looking down the huge wings and staring back at me was one of the two massive Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines. The size of the engine was like having another airliner in close formation. In fact, the opening of the Trent XWB is larger than the fuselage of a Bombardier CRJ! At takeoff, the power and acceleration are nothing less than awesome. I was also amazed at how quiet the cabin was. Setting right next to the engine, I never felt like I had to talk over the sound of the engine. The A350 flight controls is a fly by wire system. This system is nothing new to aviation or even Airbus. I don’t know how they did it but on both the flights going to Japan as well as coming back to the States, there were hours of the flight where it seem like the A350 was absolutely motionless. It was like we were hovering perfectly like a hummingbird in the sky.(A very large one mind you)

Japan19_set1_5

Throughout the flight, gazing down the leading edge of the wing to the graceful angle of the winglet, I wondered what’s Japan going to be like? What amazing adventures lies ahead? I had a list of things I wanted to see and do but had no expectations about Japan itself. I tried sleeping, but only got a few minutes here and there. The in-flight entertainment offer plenty of movies and TV shows to stay occupied during the long flight. I think I watched 4 or 5 movies. Me being a tall guy, in the Premium Select seats, I never felt uncomfortable or needing more leg room.

As the plane descended, I curiously looked through the window to catch my first glimpse of Japan. Through the layers of clouds and rain, we finally broke through the weather. And at our altitude, it was hard to judge how it looked different from any other place in the world. Hearing and seeing the leading-edge flap move into landing positions along with feeling the huge and powerful flaps going to full down. Then hearing the massive main gear swing into position, we were getting really close to landing now. And before you know it, the gear touches down and the massive engine switches into reverse thrust to provide breaking power for the giant airbus to slow to taxi speeds. With the dreaded long flight over, it was time to grab my carry-on bags and make my way to customs.

Going through Japanese Customs, I had my first experience with what I call the culture of cute in Japan. Things seem to have a certain level of cuteness to them. In the customs area at Narita airport, you get your pointer fingers scanned. The machine that scans them is a bright and lively pink color with an animated cat, meowing you the instructions. Cute, Right?!  And without any of my dreamed-up issues about going through customs, I was allowed to enter the country like everyone else. After a bit of a mix up about what terminal I was in, my sister Cynthia and her husband John found me. We talked it up from the bus ride to their van and most of the way to Yokosuka fleet base. Where they live and I will be staying during my stay.

On the ride to Yokosuka, it was dark and rainy. And I was curious to see what Japan looked like, but I knew in the days to come I would see more than I could imagine. But by now, my lack of sleep was quickly outgrowing my excitement for seeing what Japan looks like. Once at the base, we got my visitor pass, a quick bite to eat then we headed home. Greeted by my nephew Little John, which is not little anymore along with Bella, my niece which has sprouted up too. Around 8 pm, what energy I had left was fading fast. I headed off to bed and with sound of the rain hitting the window, I quickly fell sound asleep.

Day two, Going into Tokyo!

With my sleeping pattern all messed up, I awoke at 3 am. I knew from past experiences, I need to write about events when they are still fresh and clear in my mind. My plan was each morning, write about the previous day before heading downstairs and starting the day. After a bit of login troubles (everything was freaking out because I was suddenly in Japan and not in Michigan!) I managed to write about the previous day along with my travels. The week before my flight, I made a list of things I wanted to see and do while in Japan. Once completed, I texted them over to my sister to see what was and what wasn’t possible. One thing I wanted to see was the Unicorn Gundam Statue in Tokyo. It is not a little one, it’s full size. Yeah, a full size Gundam statue! Another thing I wanted to see was going to see Tokyo Tower. What a great way to view the massive capital than from high above. Plus, it would be my first time to walk the streets of Tokyo!

After everyone was up, dressed and had eaten some breakfast, John and Cynthia planned out what would be the best way to go to Tokyo. Either we drive and pay for tolls along with parking or take the train and walk. After a little bit of researching online, they found it cheaper to drive and park. So, we packed up the van, topped off the gas and headed to Tokyo! The rain from the previous night stopped and the sky cleared up beautifully. Riding along with my head on a swivel, trying to take in all in and wanting to stop and take pictures of everything. A few things I noticed on the drive, there are a lot more cars and vans here. Not many SUV s and pickup trucks like in the states. Also, the area around Yokosuka is hilly and the roads tunnel through hills and winds around others. The land flattened out a bit as we got closer to Tokyo.

After a short drive, we parked and headed inside the mall. The Gundam Statue was on the back side of the mall. We made our way through the mall that was very much alive and well. We found Gundam base Tokyo. Holy shit! Not only could you buy any Gundam kit ever made, you can see a pro built kit on display! I could have easily gone broke there. After drooling over all the awesomeness of the store, we made our way through the mall on the way to the Unicorn statue.

The sense of scale of how big it is was hard to capture on camera. We all took a ton of pictures. John found out that it transforms once every two hours. Into what? We didn’t know. We decided to get some lunch in the food court and waited until the next time it transforms. Cynthia and I got ramen, John and the kids got burgers. After eating, it was time to head back outside and see the Gundam. Quite a few people started gathering around the giant Gundam. Come time to transform, some dramatic music started to play. But come transform time, unfortunately only a few panels moved. But nonetheless it was awesome to see a full size Gundam!

Next was on to Tokyo Tower. In the heart of what seemed to be an endless sea of buildings. From the top of the tower, I was hoping to see just how big Tokyo is. After a short drive over with google navigating, we found parking and started walking through Tokyo to the tower. The hustle and bustle of Tokyo is different from other major cities I have visited. It is very clean, and people were very friendly and courteous. We made our way to the base of the tower and the closer we got, the grand sense of scale grew even larger. We chose to go to both main deck along with the top deck. Once we all in the glass elevator, it started up to the main deck.

The views from main deck was remarkable! The city goes on as far as the eyes can see. At the main deck, the kind staff offered everyone green tea to enjoy while taking in the magnificent views. The views were so spectacular, that we forgot we were going to go even higher. We loaded on to the elevator once again and headed to the top of the tower. Absolutely stunning. What a sight! The information device that was given to everyone, had images of the views that marked points of interest. After an unbelievable 20 minutes, our time at the top was done and time to head down to the gift shop. Picked up some swag for friends and myself.

Soon it was time to head back to the van and to make our way to the base to get dinner along with watch the new Star Wars movie. As the sun slowly set, the light fell on Tokyo’s endless skyline as we made our way back to Yokosuka. There was a food court on base next to the theater. We all found what we wanted to eat. Once done, we walked across the street to the theater. Not going to write a review about the movie, it is what it is… I’m more excited about The Mandalorian. “This is the way”

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Day three, Christmas Eve

After our Tokyo trip, Christmas Eve was going to be a pretty chill day. Woke up and hung out with little john as he played Xbox. Cynthia came downstairs, we had a really good time talking how we felt about the Star Wars movie. After everyone got something to eat and gotten dressed, we decided that we were going to stay local and venture out in Yokosuka. We piled in the van and parked close to the main gate so we could walk off base. Two things I cannot help but noticed, there are not a lot of garbage cans along the streets. It really makes you think about what to do with your trash that you make. I ended up putting any trash I made, in my pockets and threw it away when we got back to the base. The second thing is a lot of people riding bikes and they park them outside of where they’re going. I saw no chains or locks on any of them. And it’s not like community bikes that anybody could use, it’s their own bikes. Absolutely no fear of someone taking them.

We made our way to a covered sidewalk that was full of different types of shops. From clothing to candy. From knives to Real estate. While we were out, it gave Bella and Little John a chance to think about and or pick out their Christmas gifts. Bella fell in love with a jacket from a Hip-hop store. And every day after, she was inseparable with her new jacket. Little John didn’t find anything around town. The one thing that I love about shopping in Japan, is the unique packaging of products. Everything is perfectly packaged or wrapped, and they seem to open themselves. Along with the cutest type of advertising figures and logos. Some things don’t translate well, and other things are just… bazaar!  For lunch, we made our way to Johns favor restaurant, Cocos. Which was a Japanese style curry rice shop. We all enjoy the food and the company of each other. After lunch, we headed back to the base and drove home. Once there, the kids visited their friends and we just chilled out.

Day four, Christmas Day

I woke up to the smell of coffee around 5 am. During my stay, I slept in Little Johns room and he was sleeping on the couch downstairs. I found it strange to he would be making coffee at 5 in the morning. But John had awakened early and couldn’t get back to sleep. So, he went downstairs made coffee and started watching YouTube on the TV downstairs. After I was done with my morning writing, I made my way downstairs to what going on. I turned the corner to see both father and son, passed out snoring!

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I quietly started looking around for something to cook for breakfast. To my surprise, both Johns woke up. I poked my head around the corner to say, “Merry Christmas!” Cynthia soon came down and she set out everyone’s gifts on the table. I managed to cook some pancakes, which were not pretty but were edible. Bella sporting her new jacket, decided to come downstairs and join us. Gifts were exchanged, pictures were taken, pancakes were eaten, and coffee enjoyed.

Cynthia and John planned us a modest trip off base. We were going to head over one of their favorite stores in Yokosuka, Shimachu Home’s. It was a very short trip by van, less than 15 minutes from the base. Home’s was like a department, furniture, and hardware store all under one roof. It was a window into the everyday life of the people of Japan. It says a lot about a people from looking at the quality of their products, their sense of style, the ease of use of those products. We came across some products that you would only see in Japan and other that showed just how much thought was put into the them. There are somethings as a western is just funny.

We were starting to get hungry and we headed to a Japanese Italian restaurant that Cynthia and John enjoy. I tried to pick the most Japanese looking dishes. I can get Italian food back in the states. We all ordered three dishes and all of mine were incredible! After lunch, we made our way back to the van and traveled back to the base. We spent the rest of the day playing Xbox, snacking and watching YouTube. For Christmas dinner, Cynthia cooked turkey, homemade mashed potatoes, Bella helped with the Mac and cheese and some corn.

 

Day five, Going back into Tokyo!

For our second trip into Tokyo, I wanted to visit Akihabara, which is known for all the anime storefronts along with many hobby’s stores. Little John and Bella was not going to be coming along for this trip. The plan was for us to take the train from Yokosuka and switch trains to head to Akihabara. Then make our way over to Shibuya Crossing. And from there, head back to Yokohama to visit Landmark Tower. Cynthia, John and I went over to the mini mart here on base to grab some Yen and something quick breakfast before parking the van and walking off base to the train station. Once there, I had to get a pass to ride the trains. The System is brilliant and easy to use. You can even get your name printed on the card. The whole day we were navigating using google. It works great when traveling by car, walking around but when traveling via train in Japan… it works but we all found it to be frustrating at times. Our first leg to Tokyo, we had to switch trains in Yokohama to head to Tokyo. And after a bit of a mix up we were on the right path and found our way.

On the train from Yokohama to Tokyo, my sister pointed out to me the culture of riding the trains in Japan. How quiet it is. Ringers on phones are turned off and no-one is talking on their phone. Not to disturb anyone else on the train. There were a few whispers here and there but for the most part, all you heard was the noise of the train on the tracks and the twisting of the cabin as it turned. If you closed your eyes, it was like you were on the train by yourself. We experienced this on every train we took.

We finally got to Akihabara. And soon after leaving the train station, we were walking the streets of Tokyo again. Can’t lie, I was really thrilled. So, Akihabara is known for tons of anime, manga along with hobby shops. Yes, even in Japan, I’m going to nerd out! Again, I wanted to buy one of everything! We browse through a few shops and we only saw the just the tip of the iceberg. After some shopping and a bite to eat, we made our way to the subway to go to Shibuya Crossing. The famous busy crossing in Tokyo. God knows how many people make their way through the streets there and when we got there, it didn’t disappoint.

We explore the area around Shibuya Crossing for a while before heading to the train station to go to Yokohama. Once in Yokohama, we made our way to Landmark Tower. We stayed there until it was dark and enjoy the views of Yokohama at night. While there, Cynthia and John got their caricatures drawn by a local artist. By the time we started making our way back to Yokosuka, it was rush-hour and the trains were starting to get packed. But we made it back to the base around 7:30. By then we were all spent and hungry. Since they are putting up with all my site seeing adventures, I paid for dinner for everyone.

 

Here’s a link for Part two,

https://anadventureinawesome.com/2020/02/04/part-two-of-going-to-japan-for-the-holidays/