Shenandoah National Park

As I’ve said before, autumn is the best season, not least of which is because of the fall foliage. Within two hours drive of Washington, DC, is Shenandoah National Park, set in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and a great place to see the area’s fall foliage.

So I rented a car and took a day trip out through the park’s famous north-south road, Skyline Drive. The day I went was particularly cold, so I didn’t get to have my lunch picnic or do any hiking as I had wanted to, but the drive was beautiful and the foliage was still nice. Certainly, not at peak, especially at the higher elevations, but my 42 mile drive from the park’s northern entrance to the highest point on Skyline Drive, Skyland, was well worth it.

I lent Michael my camera and in return, I borrowed his Leica M8.2. The camera had some significant drawback compared to more current cameras. For me, it’s biggest shortcoming is the LCD screen on the back of the camera. It was so low resolution that it was basically useless in terms of being able to display the image you had just captured and I used it more for deciding if the image was composed properly. Additionally, the images all required a small amount of work in Lightroom to get right – not that any camera is going to take perfect pictures without some work – but I tend to find my Sony NEX-7 images either look pretty great in RAW or requires a decent amount of work on each image. With this camera, all the images required a small amount of work. Not really a complaint, just something I noticed.

A few pictures from the trip are below with a good sampling on Flickr. The entire set is on Shutterfly.

Skyline Drive
Skyline Drive

Shenandoah foliage

Shenandoah foliage

Shenandoah foliage

Shenandoah foliage

Mt. Rushmore

My parents and I always wanted to see Mt. Rushmore. Honestly, I was mostly intrigued by the idea of four men’s faces being blasted into the side of a mountain. I see it as the next step Americans would take after doing the normal statue-of-men thing. So, I went into the experience pretty skeptical as to if I would enjoy it.

And, truth be told, I actually enjoyed the monument a lot. It has a gravitas and really doesn’t come off as imposing or overbearing the way a statue of Lenin in the U.S.S.R. might. You can view the monument from a viewing platform and also walk along it’s base via the Presidential Trail.

Additionally, the area around Mt. Rushmore, especially Custer State Park, is very scenic so we also took the opportunity to visit Devil’s Tower in Wyoming (made famous by the film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind“) and Badlands National Park. Living in the densely populated East Coast, you forget how vast parts of the United States are.

We stayed in Rapid City which was only about 30 minutes from Mt. Rushmore. The town was small, but the downtown area was pretty quaint. People were very friendly, too, which is a nice change.

A few pictures are below and more can be found on Flickr.

rushmore
Mt. Rushmore

devils tower
Devil’s Tower

badlands
Badlands National Park

Japan

I recently got back from a trip to Japan that I took with my friend Debra. The trip was planned since July, and I was really excited for it. I had not been to east Asia yet, and I was looking forward to seeing a very different culture. We went for ten days at the end of March, and we both thoroughly enjoyed our trip. Debra lives in San Francisco, so we flew separately to Tokyo and met at the hotel we were staying at.

The flight over to Japan was a particular treat as I cashed in some miles to fly Japan Airlines first class to Tokyo. The service was so outstanding it really must be experienced to be believed. Hopefully everyone will be able to experience something like it at least once in their life. When I was making my seat into a bed to get some sleep, one of the three flight attendants who were serving me asked if she could make the bed. She then brought out a mattress, made the bed, and tucked me in! They were very attentive to my seafood “allergy” (that I don’t like to eat it) and it was just out of this world over the top.

JAL Legroom
Tons of legroom

First Class on JAL
My first class seat on Japan Airlines

dinner
Steak dinner

dessert
Dessert

Tokyo was our main shopping portal to Japan. While there were plenty of the “normal” international shopping stores in the city, what’s great is there is so much you’ve never seen or heard of before. It was fun to take in these new shops and items, and I did restrain myself pretty well. But, when there are amazing stores like Tokyu Hands and Loft, it was easy to get a little carried away.

One thing about Japan was immediately evident: the Japanese love to serve you, they love stationary, and above all they love to wrap up your purchases in as many layers as possible. One item I purchased as a gift was wrapped in wrapping paper, placed neatly with a bow inside of a shopping bag, and then covered with a plastic bag to protect the shopping bag as it was drizzling outside. And honestly, they took such pleasure in offering that service.

We next went to Kyoto via the bullet train, or Nozomi Shinkansen. These trains go 190 mph, and what was amazing to me is the frequency at which they run. Not only are there bullet trains leaving every 3-10 minutes during rush hour, but also there are the slower version of the bullet trains and the “regular” commuter trains. Obviously Japan chose to invest in this mode of transportation long before other countries and that investment has clearly paid off with nice, fast, reliable train service. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a similar train service from Washington to New York?

Kyoto was simply stunning. We had the good fortune (and planning efforts!) to be in Japan during the height of their cherry-blossom season, and Kyoto is particularly well known for these gorgeous trees. I had pictured the trees showing up in large parks in Japan (similar to how they’re around the Tidal Basin in D.C.) but instead I was pleased to see they were just everywhere, lining streets and canals all over Japan’s cities.

Some of Japan’s largest and most significant temples were in and around Kyoto, and they all had such lovely gardens that were very well maintained. We even took a nice day trip outside of Kyoto to a monkey park and bamboo forest.

Lastly, we had a few days in Osaka before we headed home. It is Japan’s second most populous city and it felt very futuristic. The highways were elevated through downtown, so it felt very “Jetsons”-like at night seeing the cars “fly” through the metropolis.

All-in-all the trip was great. I was pleasantly surprised to find Japan not too expensive, either – definitely not cheap, but probably cheaper than most European cities.

We flew home via San Francisco, where I said my goodbyes to Debra. I’d love to go back and see Japan’s countryside so hopefully that wish can be fulfilled soon.

A number of pictures from the trip are below and more can be found on my Flickr page. The entire Japan album is on Shutterfly.

Cherry blossoms in Ueno Park
Cherry blossoms in Ueno Park

Tokyo Metro
Me on the Tokyo Metro

Mirrors
Debra and me reflecting through ceiling mirrors

Kumano Shrine
Kumano Shrine in Tokyo

Seikanji
Seikanji in Kyoto

Kinkakuji
Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto

Cat
Cats in Kyoto

Kyoto Canal
Cherry-blossom lined canal in Kyoto

Tenryuji
Tenryuji outside Kyoto

Tenryuji
Debra and me in Tenryuji

Monkey park
Monkey park outside of Kyoto

Monkey park
Monkey park outside of Kyoto

Outside Kyoto
Outside of Kyoto

Vending machines
Debra loves vending machines

Osaka Metro
Debra on the Osaka Metro

Glica
Glica running man in Osaka

Costa Rica

A good friend of mine was getting married in a ceremony in Costa Rica in January so friends and I decided to make a trip around the country before attending the wedding. The country is beautiful and it is certainly still developing (note the roads in poor condition dotted with signs saying, “Puente en mal estado” or “Bridge in poor condition”), but I really enjoyed my time there.

We flew into San Jose, then drove to the beautiful beaches and nature preserve of Manuel Antonio. Afterwards we went to the rain forest at Monteverde then onto the active volcano at Arenal before driving west to Playa Hermosa, located on the Pacific, where the lovely wedding ceremony and reception took place.

I took the opportunity of this trip to use my new camera and tripod, and after lugging around the tripod on my back for most of the trip, I was happy with the results. I’ve posted the best photos below and more can be found on my Flickr page and the entire series on Shutterfly.

Butterfly Farm
Manuel Antonio Beach
Monteverde La Ventana
Arenal Hanging Bridge
Arenal Waterfall