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

The Pain of Sorting

If you have spent any time photographing airshows, you know just how rapidly you can shoot a 1000 images. After I shoot a two-day event, I can easily have over 8000 images. It can be a bit overwhelming trying to sort through thousands of photos. After years of shooting, sorting, and uploading images, I have come up with a system of sorting image that helps me find the images I want to show and share. They are no right or wrong way to sort your images. This is just what I have learned that works well for me. It may or may not work for you. With that being said, this is how I sort my images I want to share.

To start, it would good have an idea of what you are trying to show? Are you just documenting the event? Showing a series of events. Are you trying a photographic technique like panning? Maybe your following a certain act or performer. Me, I want to show the overall feeling of the TICO show for my blog. I try to limit myself to 50 images per event. Images with vibrant clarity and unique to me. Before I even start my sorting process, I make a duplicate set of images I’m going to be working with. I never play/sort/edit… with the original’s files. In my system, I look at every image I shot during that event. Yes, every last one of them. The truth is, you do not know what you got until to see it. It’s exciting went you stumble upon something unexpected. You also have to understand that this process happens over a couple days and not in one sitting. Personally, I could not imagine taking images and not looking at them. What would the point of capturing images and not looking at them?

cropped-open-show-folder.jpg

Basically, my system is viewing all my images from a show or an event and in a series of rounds, I delete the crap and get to a set number of images that show what I’m trying to tell. I used Window image viewer to view and delete unwanted photos. I find the copied folder(s) and open the first image and start sorting. Hitting the next image button if it’s a keeper or delete it if it’s junk.

window image viewer

The first round of images I delete are the painfully obvious out of focus photos. Along with images that my subject is blocked by something. Hats, heads, antenna, speaker, airshow smoke, other aircraft…Gone. Along with images that parts of the subject is cut off. Missing noses, tails, wings, horizontal stabilizer. The struggle is Real.

Rules can be broken. It could make for something interesting images.

For the TICO show, I shot a tad over 7,900 images over 3 days on 2 bodies. (7DMKII and 70D) After the first round, I’m down to about 3500 images. For the next round of deletions, images that don’t fill the frame as I liked. I enjoy showing aircraft as large as possible with little to no negative space around it. So, all the images I feel are too small must go. You have to find the images that has the spacing that you like.

Also, in this round if there are a few clouds in the sky (not completely overcast but a few here and there) like on Friday and Saturday, those images stayed. But the images with a clear blue background, delete. Aircraft live and play in the sky. For me, it’s pretty boring seeing an aircraft perfectly centered in a clear blue sky.

No clouds

And with!

I love showing clouds, but my new thing is blurring them. It’s difficult to do but it shows a sense of motion along with making your subjects really stand out and pop. Some photographers use image stabilization while panning, I get better results without and don’t use it. This works well for me. You have to use what works well with You.

Another type of image I delete in this round are uninteresting belly shots, images where the wing of the aircraft is covering the canopy along with going away shots. Images where you are looking at the ass end of an aircraft with nothing interesting to see. Like the flames of an afterburner, some dangling vertices or a puff vapor. In general, I feel  most belly shots are boring image. And I don’t want to lose my readers attention with dull images. The proposes of sorting this way is to find the most visual pleasing image possible.

Now, I am down to about 250 images. In this round, it’s time to get rid of the multiples or duplicate images that looks the same but shot on different days. For instants, Sunday’s weather crapped out and very few Sunday images made the cut. Here are two similar  shots, the first one is from Friday’s show and the second is from Sunday’s show. I feel Friday images are much better than Sundays. After this round, my image count should be in the 100 to 120ish range.

Final round. Now, the hard part starts. Weeding it down to 50. This is where it is important to know what your trying to show. To pick the correct images for you. What helps me, is to ask myself a series of questions and being brutally honest with myself.

What makes this image better than the others? Does this image express what it is I’m trying to show? Which has the better uses line, color, composition, symmetry? Which image has the better or cleaner background? Is there something else taking away attention from the subject? Which image has the better exposure?

After this round, it’s post process time. The less time I spend in Lightroom and or Photoshop, the sooner I can upload and post. Now I’m down to 50. This number is not set in stone. Events like AirVenture at Oshkosh are too grand to cover with just 50 images. Again, therefore I feel it is so important to know what it is you are trying to show. My sorting process is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a system. A system that help me weed through the crap and discover my gems. I hope my process can help you with your madness of sorting.

To see my final selection of images, look here https://anadventureinawesome.com/2017/05/27/better-late-than-never/

Until next post,

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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Part Two of “Japan for the holidays”

If you missed part one look here, https://anadventureinawesome.com/2020/02/04/going-to-japan-for-the-holidays/

Day six, Into Yokosuka with my sister

Cynthia planned for her and I to have lunch, hang out around Yokosuka. So, we took the van for our little trip and again parked the van close to the base gate to make the short walk into Yokosuka. We headed to one of her favorite restaurants in town, a little Thai restaurant. We got there before they opened. But soon it opened, and we made our way up and had an enjoyable lunch. After eating, Cynthia introduce me to one of her new pastimes, visiting the recycling center! The recycling center is basically a thrift store where you can buy used products just like the Good Will or Salvation army store like in the States, but all the stuff is Japanese. We talked and searched through the little packed shop and while we were there we ran into Stacy. Cynthia’s friend who got her into thrifting at recycling centers. Searching through the center, I quickly found a bunch of things that would make great gifts for my friends. 2300 yen later (about $23 dollars) I had to cash out. There is so much to search through and thrill of finding something really cool holds true. It had been a long time since my sister, and I spent any time together along with talking about what we are going through in our lives. The time we spent together was personal and special.

Day seven, Trip to Mount Fuji and the Ice caves

One of next things on my list of things I want to see in Japan is the iconic Mt. Fuji. During our trips into Tokyo, you could easily make it out as it pops its head over the landscape. I told my sister and brother in law I wanted to see it closer than that. The night before, John prepared our trip of Mt. Fuji. He had found an observation deck at the base of Mt. Fuji. Along with he wanted to see some Ice caves nearby. In the morning, John was ready to go before the rest of the family. We all tried to dress in layers to stay warm for the change in elevation and for inside the Ice caves. We stopped by the base’s commissary, got some food for the road, gassed up the van and we were off to Mt. Fuji!

According to Google, our trip would take about two hours to get to Mt. Fuji. As we made our way through the windy roads with scenic views and tunnels galore, our ears were popping as the elevation changed. The closer we got, the sheer size and presents of Mt. Fuji grow more and more impressive. To get to the parking lot for the observation deck, we found one of the sketchiest roads in Japan! It was a mud covered one lane dirt road that had a bunch of switchbacks up the side this huge hill with one hell of a drop-off . John cautiously white knuckled us to the observation deck parking lot. There was a sweet old couple running the place. Not sure if they lived there but oh my, what a view they have! We spent some time there taking pictures as well as enjoying the spectacular view. Being there and looking upon Mt. Fuji is a memory I will not soon forget.

It was time to pile back into the van and down the super sketchy road. Once down, it was a quick trip to the Narusawa Ice Caves. Which are old lava tubes and due to its cold temperature, they were use as a natural refrigerator. We geared up and headed down. With a death grip on the handrails, we make our way through the first cave. Once there, it was very quiet and noticeably much colder. The ice was cut and place throughout the cave and was lite with lights. We made our way back up to the surface and paused for a breather. The slick steps and cold thin air were taking its toll on us.

After going to the second cave (Wind cave) we hit up the gift shop got some Mt. Fuji swag. Now what? It was only about 12:30 am and we had seen both things we set out to do. While we are here, let’s find something else to go and do. After some googling, we found the ancient village of Iyashi no Sato. The village is nestled in the valley near Mt. Fuji. Once there, in the parking lot, it was time for some much-needed lunch. And after a quick refuel, we made our way through the ancient village. One could only imagine living in such a fantasy like setting. It was truly like we had traveled back in time. Absolutely and unforgettable experience. I can understand why Mt. Fuji has “inspired artists and poets and been the object of pilgrimage for centuries”…UNESCO

By the end of our stay there, John was starting to get a bit antsy about the drive back to the base. We said goodbye to Iyashi no Sato and headed home. The trip by to Yokosuka was uneventful. To show my gratitude, I wanted to cooked dinner for the family. So, I introduced them to my favorite taco. Grill sriracha-marinated chicken, pineapple, onion, cilantro, cheese, salsa and sour cream. Oh yeah, we smashed a box of 18 shells with the quickness!

 

Day eight December 29.

Cynthia, John, Bella and Little John went to church in the morning. I stayed home and chilled. On their way home, they stopped and got lunch for the kids. John, Cynthia and I were going to go into Yokosuka to have lunch somewhere. With took the van and parked it close to the base gate and walked into Yokosuka. We made our way through town and finally decided to have Shabu shabu. After a bit of struggling and frustration, we managed to order and enjoy our lunch. After eating, we decided to walk around the mall and do some window shopping. There were two adorable puppies in one of the shops. And while we were out, we sampled some sweets. The lunch trip gave Cynthia and John a little time away from the kids as well as they had time for themselves.

Day nine, New Years eve in Tokyo with Elizabeth

Earlier this year Elizabeth, a friend I have known for many years moved from Michigan to Japan. Upon my arrival there, I informed her that I was going to spend the holidays in Japan and hopefully we could get the chance to meet up, talk, site see or whatever. I felt it would be a shame if I had traveled all the way to Japan and not get a chance to see her. Soon after I got here in Japan, she suggested I travel to her to just outside of Nagoya, over 3 hours by train. And at the time, I didn’t feel comfortable traveling that far in a foreign country alone. The week leading up to New Year, it was looking more and more likely that we were not going to get a chance to see each other.

For New Year’s Eve, Elizabeth was planning to go to the samurai museum in Tokyo and then travel on to see Mt. Fuji. With Tokyo only being about an hour and half away by train, we made plans to meet up there and hang out in Tokyo. After our trip to Tokyo Tower and Akihabara, I wanted to spend more time in and around Tokyo. But this trip would be different. It would be my first solo trip into the Japanese capital . Having to navigate the train system as well as the busy streets of Tokyo. I was a bit nervously about it first. But during our other trip into Tokyo, it showed me what to expect as far as switching trains and locating stations. And after some time in google maps along with talking to Cynthia and John, I felt confident enough to make the trip.

The morning of New Year’s Eve, after a shower and a quick cup of coffee, Cynthia dropped me off at the train station at Yokosuka. While at the station, I added some more yen to my train pass. I then made my way to the correct train platform and before long, my train to Tokyo arrived. I nervous watched the little blue dot in google map move along the route. And as it moved in the right direction, I grow more confident in my ability to navigate. The test to come will be switching train. Getting off at the correct station, exiting and entering the correct station along with finding the correct platform and train. I rode the train from Yokosuka to Shinagawa Station. Then I would switch from the Yamanoto line to Shinjuku station.

Once at Shinjuka station, I would exit the train and head to the Samurai museum. I arrived in Tokyo early which I wanted to give myself enough time to find the museum. Elizabeth messaged me stating that she would be arriving a little later than expected. Which was fine. It gave me more time to wonder around Tokyo. As I made my way around, I came across a small park that has a Japanese shrine. I find the architecture and spiritual nature of them fascinating. The history, the colors and rituals all interesting.

Leaving the park behind, I passed by a coffee shop and thought this would be a good place to pass the time and people watch until Elizabeth shows up. While there enjoying a cup, she messages me that she is close and would near soon. I replied back letting her know I was getting some coffee and she replied back that she could use one too. I message the address and was going to meet me there. Well… google maps freaked out and I ended up sending her a different address from where I was. I noticed my error and made my way over to the other coffee shop which was in an underground mall.  So, I ordered cup number two and a pastry . Elizabeth soon arrived and we sat talked for a while before heading up and making our way to the museum.

It was a short and enjoyable walk over to the samurai museum. Once there, we got tickets, but we had about an hour to kill before our tour. We made our way over to the little shrine I visited earlier. We discussed various parts of the Japanese culture as we walked through the park. Once back on the streets, it was time to start heading to the museum for our tour. I found the samurai museum tour informative and enjoyable. Such a rich and tragic history. The last part of the tour involved a short demonstration with two actors role-playing. After the demonstration, we made our way back to the entrance, taking photos along the way.

Leaving the museum, it was time for some food. We both agreed with we are in Japan, we are going to try something Japanese. We came across a shop that looked promising and it turned out to be pretty good. During our meal, I mentioned that my sister enjoyed going to recycling centers. And to my surprise, Elizabeth enjoys them too. After a bit of googling, we decided to head over to Harajuku with the hopes of finding a recycling center. According to google, a quick bus trip could get us there in about 5 minutes. But as we waited, a taxi became our better option.

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Once there, google said it was about a block away. But what it didn’t say was we had to walk through an extremely busy street. Holy crap! It was super packed, and as you would expect we didn’t find the recycling center. It was still fun people watching and window shopping. The sites, the sounds and the smell of the food was all a bit overwhelming but still exciting.

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The sun was starting to go down along with the temperature. Elizabeth wanted to find a place to charge her phone before the second part of her trip. Starbucks should have a place for charging and along with a quick cup of coffee. Turns out, I think we found the smallest Starbucks in Tokyo! After a quick warm up, it was time to head to the train station and to part ways. I had fun spending time with Elizabeth and hope we get a chance to do it again. I made my way back to the base with only one hiccup. Understandably, after that enjoyable day, I did not make it to midnight to ring in the New Year!

 

Day ten, New Years day

That mornings writing took me a few hours due to all the things Elizabeth and I saw and did. The family slept in a bit after staying up and celebrating the New Year. After all we been doing and seeing it was going to be another lite and easy day. Especially after spending New Years eve in Tokyo. Cynthia, John and I was thinking about going somewhere for breakfast but due to the limited choices for breakfast on base, we decided to go to lunch at Chili’s . We got a table by the window that looks out on to the bay. After lunch, the whole family loaded up the van and headed to Cynthia’s favorite place in Japan, Sankeien Gardens.

As we exited the highway, making our way through the narrow streets until we reach the Gardens. From the cramped and crowded streets to this open and peaceful space, it was like stepping into another world. The Garden had a sense of peace and serenity. The noise of the world faded out as if it knew it did not belong in such a place. As I was taking it all in, my sister which was farther along on the pathway, text me to come on! That this wasn’t even the good part! And she was right. In the matter of a few turns of the path, the park opens up to a small pond with several traditional Japanese style building placed around it. From houses to bridges to even a temple built in 735, was all move to this tranquil place.

On the drive back to the base, as houses and building passed by, I started reflecting on my time in Japan. Walking the streets of Tokyo, being in the presence of Mt. Fuji along with experiencing the Japanese culture with my sister and her family. I was and still am envious that they get to live here for a few more years. Japan is truly a magnificent place. It has been such an unbelievable trip.

We were going to have dinner at an Italian restaurant on base, but it was closed. There were other restaurants open and everyone ordered food from different places. But we all sat and ate together. After dinner, we dropped Bella off at her friend’s house and we got home and chilled out the rest of the night.

 

Day eleven,  My last day in Japan

I made my way downstairs, got some coffee and talked with Little John and Cynthia. After a lite breakfast, it was soon time to say my goodbyes. Bella and Little John wasn’t going to go to the airport. After all my suitcases packed in the van, we were off to Narita international airport, which was about 2 hours away. The trip was slowed by traffic but still managed to get there about an hour and a half before boarding. After finding parking, we headed to the proper terminal. After a brief check in at the kiosk, I turned to my sister and brother in law, told them thanks for everything, that I love them both and it was off to my gate after security.

Got boarded and seated without any difficulties. Again, flying in Premium Select on Delta’s flagship, Airbus A350. My plan this time, was to try and stay awake the whole flight, (11 and half hours) get home around 3 in the afternoon, try to stay up until 7 to get my sleep schedule back to normal. As I watched movies and shows, before long it was time to eat breakfast. About an hour or so after breakfast, we started our descent into the metro area. And just like that, the flight was over, and I was back in Michigan.

Of the little time I spent in Japan, it has left a profound and positive impression on my mind and body. Japan and its amazing people have altered my perspective of the world. Showing me a kinder, more courteous and well discipline society. Even after a week from my departure, I’m still having dreams about being in Japan. As well as waking up thinking I’m still there. During my stay, I never felt unsafe or unwanted. Everywhere we went, we were genuinely greeted and welcomed. On the physical side, it took me a full week to get over the jet lag. I had never been so tired for so long, but it was worth it. If you ever have the chance to visit Japan, Go! I saw a lot during my stay but there is much more I still want to see. I’m hoping to post “Japan 2.0” this time in 2021!

Arigatou, Sayonara

 

 

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