Friday, June 2, 2017

There's a Reason It's the #1 Aquarium!

It's been a while since we posted a blog, but we've been waiting for me to learn to walk.  My arches have fallen, and I've been on my rear or in CAM walking boots most of this time.  My doctor sent me to get custom orthotics made, and I even have to put them in house shoes!  When I complained about how uncomfortable they were, the guy that made the molds and gave them to me told I hadn't been walking right and that I hadn't been standing right.  He told me it would take a while to get used to being forced to stand and walk properly, and then it would be more comfortable.  My doctor backed him up.  So, I'm still having trouble walking, but I'm past the point of the "breaking in period", so off we go.

Stop one is the Georgia Aquarium.  We've driven through Atlanta many, many times.  I even chaperoned a field trip to the Coca-Cola Museum right across the plaza from it.  I love zoos and aquariums, and this is supposed to be the best.  But, the Monterey Aquarium had disappointed me, so I decided to see if Georgia would make it up.  We got early bird tickets, so we were out in the wee hours of the morning to get to Atlanta by 11:00 a.m. from Ocala, Florida.  Perfectly doable.  The folks in Atlanta know a good thing, and they certainly aren't afraid to toot their own horn


Now, to see if they can back up those claims!  Upon entry, it's well put together.  A central area with each different area of emphasis in sections surrounding the central foyer.  The central area was large and open with pathways to help direct traffic, but allowing plenty of room to meander.  Several cafes on various sides where you could sit and rest with a refreshing beverage.  Those weren't where I chose to sit and rest, though.


We (meaning I) decided to start with the top draw - The Ocean Voyager where the whale sharks and manta rays are.  When you enter the section, there are a few spots to look into the huge tank before you reach the moving sidewalk and the tunnel.  My first sight of the whale shark was when it swam over me.


Pretty awesome.  You can step off the moving sidewalk if you would like to hang out and watch just in the tunnel.  I stepped out for a little while because I could have sworn I saw a sawfish swim through, but I was looking elsewhere and only saw him out of the corner of my eye, so I just wasn't sure.  He didn't come back, though, so we went on through the tunnel.  While waiting for the touch tank, there was an announcement that the whale shark feeding was about to take place.  I decided to bypass the touch tank.  I've played with rays and guitar fish before, but I did want to watch the whale shark feeding.

Whale sharks are filter feeders, so they just filter the water around them through their mouths.  The water passes through the filter pads and back out through the gills, and the food continues down through the digestive tract.  In the aquarium, they target feed them.  The workers float in small boats at the surface and target feed each shark from small color-coded buckets of krill.  Each shark has its own bucket so the workers can track how much each has eaten.  They are growing juveniles, after all!  It was amazing to watch!

video

These guys and their buddies (many of whom are also pretty sizeable) have plenty of room to swim around and to grow.  This tank alone holds 6.3 million gallons of water.  The whale sharks, manta rays, guitar fish, groupers, and others seemed to have plenty of room to maneuver and swim about as they chose.  When I needed to sit and take a break, I returned to this tank watching these gentle giants.  I'm even more determined now to join them in their natural habitat around Baja California or somewhere else.  There were a couple of times in Ecuador where one would beach.  The towns people would try their best to push them back into the water, but they failed each time.  I never saw one while swimming or snorkeling off the coast of Ecuador, but I hear there are scads of them in the Gulf of California, which some say is the best place to find them.

Just so you know, I would have been content if that had been the only tank in the aquarium, but it obviously wasn't.  There were sea otters, river otters, California sea lions, dolphins, penguins, and all kinds of things.  They did have one of the best tanks of garden eels I've seen, with schools of many different types of fish in the tank with them.  Many aquariums tend to put the garden eels in a tank with maybe one type of fish (usually a wrasse) with them and with an appearance of a protective habitat, though most garden eels thrive in areas with moderate currents, more likely to bring food their way.  I was also impressed with the leafy sea dragon tank.  Much larger than what you usually see with lots of places for the little guys to hide if they want to instead of a small tank that gets covered periodically to relieve stress.  And, the mandarine fish -- Usually, they're so busy darting around, I can't get a good shot.  This was posed.  He would move just a bit and then stop for the picture.  When I started to leave, he turned to face me, as if he wasn't finished!  Here are some shots.




The tanks were conducive to the animals' needs, yet easy for visitors to view without having to squeeze into small, tight spaces.  Nobody stopped me when walking to exhibits to have me sample their wares and take a coupon for my next trip to the market, and the space was used for animal habitats, not stationary displays and televisions so you could see what was going on in the exhibit if you couldn't get to a viewing spot.  The Georgia Aquarium puts the Monterey Aquarium to shame.  It also skyrocketed to the top of my list of best aquariums, which was most recently headed by the Newport Aquarium in Newport, Kentucky, just outside Cincinnati, Ohio.

After leaving the aquarium, we headed to Alabama to spend some time with a dear friend.  She took us to have some really good German food.  Sorry.  I couldn't wait.  Sooooo good.


This was Bruce's favorite part!


While Bruce was hanging out in the hotel, Barb and I found a little park with a creek.  Noticing no signs warning us to stay out, we decided to dip our toes in.  It was an awesome feeling!  The water was cool on that hot day.  A couple of frogs weren't really impressed with us, though.  Next time, I think I'll bring my water shoes, though.  Those rocks were pretty sharp!


A lovely park with a refreshing creek with two crazy ladies wading in it!  Life just doesn't get any better!

Meanwhile, in Tennessee -- Meet Pete!  He's gonna be a daddy soon, and he perches on the racks of this truck or high in other trees so he can keep an eye out, making sure nothing messes with the mama of those little peababies.



The peahen (whose name just evades me) decided to lay her eggs in the bed of this pickup truck, which won't be moving anytime soon.  I got the best shots I could, but the last thing I wanted was for her to feel threatened and have either her or Pete or both let me know just how unwelcome I was!


Since we were there, we had every intention of going to the Portland, Tennessee Strawberry Festival.  It's held on a Saturday in May every year, and we just happened to be there for that Saturday.  Remember at the top, I said the doctor said I didn't know how to walk?  Well, I proved it that day.  We got up and checked out of our hotel, deciding we'd spend a few hours at the Strawberry Festival, and maybe have some strawberry shortcake or strawberry pie for lunch before travelin' on down the road.  No such luck!  We got out of the car and started walking to Main Street, where it was shut down for the festival.  We got on the sidewalk, and I swear Bruce pushed me!  I'm not sure how he managed to do it since he was actually in front of me, but that's what had to happen because the next thing I know, I'm laying face down on the sidewalk!

You know that Facebook meme that's going around about knowing whether you're old based on the way people react when you fall?  I'm old!  I'm apparently older than old!  One lady actually started digging through her handbag for ointments and bandaids!  My new filtered water cup got scratched up in the fall.  I got some scratches on my fingers.  I got a bruise on the side of my leg just above my ankle.  The biggest brunt was my knee.  It doesn't look so bad, but it hurt like hell, and some of those spots were really deep!  If I was younger, I probably would have been able to push through it.  But, Bruce was having none of it.  If I couldn't stand up and walk properly, apparently I didn't need to have any strawberry shortcake or strawberry pie!  He marched my butt back to the car (meaning he almost literally carried me), and drove me to the nearest store where he could find a bandage big enough to cover it.  Then, he stood in the parking lot while I stuck my leg out in the car and cleaned my knee, point triple antibiotic on it, and taped a large dressing on it.  He finished it off by handing me a giant Reese's Cup.  Doesn't make up for the strawberry shortcake I was looking forward to, though!


That put me back on my rear again for a period of time.  But it didn't stop me from crashing Mother's Day with some friends and family in Tennessee before heading to Mississippi.

After a couple of days we were on our way again.  Biloxi, Mississippi was the next destination.  We got there a little early for checking into our rooms, so I sat down for a little while.  Sixty cents later, and --


As you can see, I bet big! (snicker, snicker!)  I actually spent most of my time there coaxing the birds up so I could try to take their pictures.  This was the best I got.  Holding the camera in one hand and a little bit of bread with the other.  None of them would come in to take it.  Surprisingly, they didn't even catch it when I threw it to them!  The one in the back was looking at it, though.


Of course, we had to make a trip to Darwell's!  No trip to the Biloxi area is complete without it!  One of the most unique things about Biloxi is the tree carvings in the median down Beach Boulevard (Hwy 90).  When Hurricane Katrina came through, there was a huge amount of damage, including all of the trees that used to line that median.  Instead of cutting them all down, the city commissioned three chainsaw and wood artists to turn the dead trees into works of art.  And, boy, did they ever!  These are some really awesome sculptures, with quite a bit of detail.  Some are small, but some are huge and multifaceted.  Here are just a few of them.




This will be our last circle back to Florida for a while.  It's getting entirely too hot here, so the next trip out will be another one-way journey!  And hopefully, I'll have learned to walk by then!




Sunday, April 9, 2017

A Day Full of Elephants!

Today was an exciting day.  Since getting out of the CAM boot for my Achilles' tendon problems, I'm finally out and about.  I have temporary orthotics in my sneakers, a bit stiffer than over-the-counter, but not quite fitted to my foot, so the arch support is a little forward compared to my normal arch.  But, it lifts my heel (which the podiatrist says is important), and it keeps my arch from falling the rest of the way.  My custom orthotics will be ready in a couple of weeks, and maybe we can take some early morning walks into the forest  to hang out and just watch the critters who live here and don't want to come out to the human communities.

About an hour up the road form here is an elephant sanctuary, Two Tails Ranch.  I felt like it would be a good place to start, and elephants!  I mean, come on.  Who doesn't want to play with an elephant?!  If any of you are ever around Williston, Florida, I would definitely recommend you go by.

You have to call and reserve your tour, so if you just stop by, they may not be having one that day.  Or you could get there and find that they are full.  I was surprised at the number of people who were there.  Bruce estimates about 50 or 60 people ranging from toddlers to geezers older than us!  This is the line to check in.  We had looked at a few other animals before getting in line, and there were several people behind us.


After checking in and buying our tickets for the activities we wanted, we entered a patio with folding chairs and picnic tables.  In the paddock in front of us was Luke, a male Asian elephant.  Luke stood patiently waiting for everybody to come in and for his matriarch, Pat (a human), to educate everyone on elephants, especially the Asian elephant.


Pat taught us quite a bit about the elephants that I had no clue about.  Some of the highlights are that there are significant differences between African and Asian elephants.  The easy way to tell the difference is in the ear size, with the African elephant having much larger ears.  However, the DNA strands are very different, and they aren't just different breeds of the same animal.  The Asian and African elephants cannot breed because their species are so different!  She talked more about the external differences (such as number of toes, tusking, head shape, etc), but the DNA differences struck me so strongly that I had to look up the taxonomy.  (I know.  I can be a bit nerdish, at times.  Okay, often and more than a bit!)  I learned that both the African and Asian elephant belong to the same genus, but they are different species with each of them having multiple subspecies (breeds).  And apparently, the Asian elephant is more closely related to the wooly mammoth than the African elephant is.  This is why the tusks of the Asian elephant cross in front.  Luke (in the picture) is still an adolescent.  As he grows up, his tusks will begin to curve up, like a mammoth's.  Another difference between the Asian and African elephants is that in the Asian elephant, only the male grows tusks.

Luke has spent much of his life at Two Tails Ranch.  He grew up with Pat's children and enjoyed playing soccer with them and doing other things, such as painting.  Luke painted a picture for us.  He seemed to enjoy it.


Later, we got to take pictures with him.  He was very friendly.  I wish I had stayed a little longer.  He was getting curious with his trunk.  The next person who took a photo got a hug from him with the trunk!



After pictures, we fed carrots to one of the female elephants.  She was very, very happy!  Pat said it costs over $100,000 per year to feed each elephant.  That's in addition to the 80 acres they get to roam and graze!  She said they don't have to go round them up, as they all like to spend the night in the barn.  Especially Luke, who is afraid of the dark!  It was really fun feeding the female.  She was reaching for the carrot before I even got up to her!



Then they did elephant rides.  I opted out of the rides, instead wandering around the grounds checking out the other animals.


They have ringtail lemurs with a large enclosure and a "skybridge" leading to and from a large building, where they can go inside whenever they want, like this guy!


They are breeding the lemurs.  This one turned 3 weeks old yesterday!


All in all, it was an excellent day.  The animals appear well taken care of and spoiled.  The enclosures were large and well appointed, and most of the animals are apparently turned out to roam the 80 acres at will when guests are not on site.  They also have a program in which you can bathe an elephant and other up-close activities assisting with their daily care.  I didn't think I was up for that yet. Shout out to Two Tails Ranch for doing such an excellent job with these animals!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Food Trucks and Puppy Tracks

I know I haven't posted much recently.  I've had some problems with "flat tires", and I'm just not doing much going out or doing anything until I'm fully healed and can get back up to speed.  In the six months we've been back in the states, I've had mobility problems for at least three of them.  I can tell you one thing for sure.  Achilles' tendon problems HURT LIKE HELL!  First, they put me in a splint and told me to use crutches.  That was an experience.  I just couldn't manage it.


Then, they gave me a CAM boot, which was much better!


Just a few weeks after the left foot healed, the right foot went out.  Same problem.  Achilles' tendon, but this time we added the extensor tendon on the top of the foot so it took a little longer and hurt worse!  But, I'm back in walking shoes now.  No more flip-flops, and I have an appointment to have custom orthotics made.  Joy of joys!!  Oh, well. I'm trying to get my walking ability back up after being sedentary for so long, and then we'll start moving around again.

I've done a little hobbling while this has been going on, but not really very much.  That's why you haven't heard much from me.  Hopefully, that will be changing soon.

We went to the Food Truck Wars at Cranes Roost Park in Altamonte Springs, Florida.  I was a big fan of the spicy pork from the Korean BBQ Taco Box truck. The desert trucks were pretty good, too.  I have to admit, though.  I have no clue who actually won the war.  We were all just collateral damage, and happily so!


It's a lovely park


and the kids enjoyed playing by the fountain.


A bit later, we headed to the other side of the state, to the puppy tracks in St. Petersburg, Florida.  While it's not my favorite body of water, I do miss the Gulf Coast.  As we were getting ready to leave, a neighbor came over to visit, so we hung around for a bit.  When he went on his way, we headed to the track.


Bruce used to go watch the puppies run on many Sunday afternoons when we lived in the Tampa area, so off we headed on a Sunday afternoon.  We got to the dog track in time to learn that they no longer run on Sunday afternoons!  So, off we go, back to the forest.

When we went back for the Wednesday matinee, the parking lot had some cars in it, and they were open!  Yay us!!


We got a box almost across from the finish line.  I cheered for the bunny, and won every race!  See how far ahead he was??!!


The puppies had a good time chasing him, though!


Bruce likes to do some wagering, so he put down  few little bets.  Check out that trifecta - dogs 1+4+7!


And check out THAT trifecta!


Since Spring Break traffic was really bad, we took the side roads home.  We've gotten so that we tend to take them instead of the interstates these days.  The scenery is so much nicer than that along the interstate.  Passing through Inverness, we found the Red Barn Auction.  They had some neat stuff in the parking lot, but we especially liked the gecko on the water tower!


We stopped went by The Villages for dinner before going home.  I didn't realize parking spaces were the perfect size for TWO golf carts!


I'm hoping to get back on my feet again, and there are lots of things I want to do around here while working on that.  I have found an elephant sanctuary that I want to do soon!  And then, we should start heading toward parts unknown!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Touring Tokyo with the Mini Geezer

Recently, I added two countries to the countries I have visited. My daughter, Chrissy, and I took a girls trip to Tokyo, Japan, with a long layover in Beijing, China. For this trip, I let her do the planning. I figured this would be her time to stretch her legs for a trip to a country she has been enamored with since childhood. This would be her Geezer-in-Training opportunity. She showed me that she didn't need no stinking training, though. She's just a mini-Geezer. She put together an awesome trip with no real assistance from me! Made me proud. She found us reasonably priced air fare, a relatively nice apartment for our week in Tokyo, learned a few phrases in Japanese, and researched the easiest ways to get around. While there were a few times we walked in circles and I had to prompt her to ask for directions, she did a much better job navigating in a new country than I have ever done. Every time we were walking in circles, those circles were in the general vicinity of where we needed to be, if only we would look right, left, up, etc.

My trip began with a flight to Seattle, where I spent a few days catching up with her before we left for the Far East.  Mt. Rainier welcomed me as we approached Sea-Tac airport.


Chrissy met me at the airport and took me back to her new apartment with an awesome view of Tacoma, Commencement Bay, and Mt. Rainier (when it's clear).  After a couple of days, we headed across the International Date Line and into tomorrow!

We arrived in Tokyo just after midnight, and since the trains and busses had stopped running, we had to take a taxi to our apartment in Shinjuku, a neighborhood of Tokyo.  She had chosen a traditional Japanese apartment with the mats on the floor.  There were a few minor issues with the apartment, but overall it was good, though it could have been just awesome.  I did have a little trouble with the traditional bedding.  At my age, I need more padding than that.  Chrissy didn't have any problems with it, though, so that part's on me.  She made sure I had plenty of ibuprofen, though!

Our first day was spent just getting our bearings.  We got our train pass for the week and looked around the neighborhood a little bit. I had some delicious duck soup with udon noodles for breakfast, and Chrissy had something with vegetables.  A few initial observations: Tokyo reminded me of New York City, with many high rise apartments along with business skyscrapers.  The sidewalks in Tokyo tend to be wider than I remember them being in New York City.  There are also very few benches or places to sit, even in parks.  I'm convinced that the reason many people carry suitcases around with them isn't just to make carrying their purchases or other items easier, but also to give them portable places to sit!


Also, when going to the bathroom, you must check the door.  Not all bathrooms are created equally.  Squat toilets are very popular over there!  I just couldn't --



Some are pretty high tech, though, with heated seats that start heating when you sit and bidets with multiple options.



On the second day, after we got our train passes and I stopped marveling over the toilets, Chrissy took us out to the SkyTree, also known as Tokyo Tower.  Our cab driver had pointed Tokyo Tower out to us on the way to our apartment from the airport.  It was the high tower lit up off in the distance.  Chrissy got us there with ease.  Tokyo is the largest city in the world, more than twice the size of New York City.  It's on the water, and there are lots of georgeous bridges.  The SkyTree is treated much like the Empire State Building with 360-degree views of the city from elevations intended to allow you to see far and wide.  It was mostly clear the day we went, so views were nice.  You could see Mt. Fuji in the distance, and some of the traditional architect interspersed with the modern skyscrapers.






At 350 meters, there is also a glass floor where you can look straight down into the city below you!



After visiting the SkyTree and enjoying the view from 450 meters (over 1476 feet), Chrissy parked me at a table and went shopping in the massive mall.  It turns out, Tokyo puts these massive shopping complexes in many of their larger train stations.  That worked just fine for Chrissy.  She does like to shop!  And, with the dollar being strong and there being lots of sales on for the New Year, she found some excellent deals!

After the SkyTree, we headed out to our first temple, Senso-ji Temple.  This is the oldest Buddhist Temple in Tokyo.  From the moment you reach the area, its stature impresses.  The entrance is the dominating structure of Kaminarimon, or "Thunder Gate".



Once inside the temple grounds, you follow the street, Nakamise-dori to the temple.  Nakamise-dori is 250 meters long and lined with approximately 89 shops.  Here, you can get everything from street foods to kimonos and everything in between.  It is festively decorated with lanterns, dragon kites, and various other banners.



After trekking down Nakamise-dori, you come to an inner gate, Hozomon, or "Treasure House Gate".  It's pretty imposing, as well, and is the entryway to the inner temple grounds.



Once inside the temple grounds, there are little shacks on either side of the street where the believers shake their paper fortunes out of little drawers and boxes.  They tie these fortunes on posts outside of the shacks.  Once actually at the temple, there is a law wall around a small pool into which people throw coins. 

After the temple, we took a rickshaw tour around the area.  We saw the traditional, Edo, portion of town.  We heard a geisha practicing her shamisen as we were parked outside the geisha house.  And, we saw "bar alley".  After the rickshaw tour, we picked up some sweets and had tempura for dinner.







The next day, I didn't feel very well.  It was the first time I've ever had the normal "traveler's malady" when traveling.  Not something that was expected in one of the most developed areas in the world.  Chrissy did an awesome job finding a pharmacy and getting some meds that helped me out.  By evening, I was back up, and we made it to our reservations at the Robot Restaurant.  We knew it was going to be a little over the top when this was the waiting area!



The show was excellent.  There were robots that were basically stages that carried drummers and other musicians around the stage.  There were dancers with dark clothing and light tubes.  There were fabulous costumes.  And, there was a story in which the water and forest inhabitants fought off the foreign invaders with more impressive robots and characters as it kept going, starting with Po and the characters from Kung Fu Panda.  It was beyond description and an awesome time!  It's a dinner theater.  They brought us our food, pulled a cord, and told us to wait 10 minutes.  Then, the box started steaming.  It was delicious!  I'm not sure what it was.  Looked like some kind of beef in rice with veggies.













Another day, another temple.  This one, the Meiji Jingu, a Shinto temple.  The temple is surrounded by a forest, which was initially planted by hand as a place for the souls of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken to reside in.  After 90 years, it is now a natural forest with undergrowth and streams, and a lovely place.  The Emperor and Empress (the Dieties) are known for their contributions toward industrializing Japan, and every year, various breweries give offerings of straw barrels of saki.  French wine makers have consecrated a number of casks of wine in honor of the Dieties' commitment to preserving the traditional ways while modernizing and incorporating Western processes, as well.  I was never able to learn the significance of the blue and white lanterns.






Upon entering the main temple grounds, there is the building for getting fortunes.  There is an area where you can have a wooden tablet painted with your personal prayers and thanks, which will be conveyed o the Dieties by the priests in the morning ceremonies.  At the front of the temple, is the same pool where coins are tossed.





On leaving the main temple area, there is the washing fountain (Temizuya).  The washing is a sign of respect and is independent of any religion, though there is a specific order for washing.  You fill the dipper from the water running into the fountain and rinse your left hand.  Then, you rinse your right hand.  Next, you pour water into your left hand and rinse your mouth out, spitting the water into the fountain.  You rinse your left hand again, and finally, you rinse the dipper, allowing the water to run out the handle.  

After the temple, it was time for more shopping.  So, while Chrissy shopped (again finding some really awesome deals), I rested my weary bones.  This time, at McDonald's where I tested a Big Mac.  Again, it tasted like a Big Mac anywhere else (except Saudi Arabia).  The mix was a little off, with extra lettuce and not as much special sauce as normal, but it was basically a normal Big Mac.  So, the only country where the Big Mac has tasted different (so far) is Saudi Arabia.  That night, we had the fried pork at a little restaurant close to the Okubo train station (the one closest to our apartment), where we met a man who lived in Shinjuku, but had spent a few years in St. Petersburg, Florida.  We had some good conversation about Tokyo and Florida.  Chrissy got me some chop stick "trainers", and after watching me struggle for a while even with the trainers, he asked the waitress to bring me a fork.  I used the fork for a little while, but I was determined to master the use of chop sticks!

The days are running into each other, and the next morning started at Tokyo Station.  The entryway is a dome, and the exterior is lovely.  Inside is an entire mini city full of shops, restaurants, and grocery stores.  Another shopping opportunity for Chrissy and a resting opportunity for me.


After Tokyo Station, it's off to another temple.  This time, it's Gotokuji Temple, more commonly known as the maneki neko or the beckoning cat.  There are many legends about the significance of the cat and what makes it lucky, but the one endorsed by the temple says that the pet cat of the monk of the poor temple waived down some passing samurai who came in for a rest and waited out a storm.  During the storm, the monk preached to them, and they were moved, feeling that the Buddha had sent the cat to bring them to hear this monk's words.  Upon returning to their homes, the samurai donated rice fields and other lands, making the temple wealthy.  Therefore, the beckoning cat is a symbol for incoming wealth and luck.  There are real cats living inside the temple.  People purchase the porcelain cats and offer them to the temple.  They also tie their fortunes on the trees and bushes outside the main temple.






After the quiet of the temple, it was time to go to the Shibuya.  Just outside of the train station is the intersection believed to be the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world.  Estimates are that as many as 2,500 people cross at this intersection with each light change during rush hour.  We were a little later than rush hour, but it was certainly busy.  The crosswalks are painted in for almost any possible path you could want to cross, including diagonally.  When the light turns red for vehicle traffic, all vehicle traffic stops, and all pedestrian traffic goes.  This is a huge intersection.  In this one spot, there are 5 jumbotrons, multiple cross streets, a busy station courtyard, and lots of shops. I'm not one to get intimidated by crowds or have agoraphobia or anything like that.  But, there was a rush of adrenaline when that light changed and we waded into that sea of people to cross diagonally.  Remembering years ago when I had Chrissy take my hand in crowds to make sure she didn't get lost, I instinctively reached out for her - this time to make sure I didn't get lost.  Definitely a hopping area with lots of shops.  Once again, we parked me to rest while Chrissy went shopping..  Please don't think there is anything wrong with this.  She likes to shop, and I don't.  I needed to rest as much as possible so that I could have the stamina to see the things we saw.  I also love to people watch.  So, while she was shopping, I was people watching and resting my back and hips, not to mention my Achilles tendon, which I had just taken from the walking boot.  (Wonder how the doctor's going to react when she finds out.)



The next day, we were off to see the Mountain.  It was a clear, sunny day, so we were expecting some beautiful sights.  On the express train, it took us about 45 minutes to get out of Tokyo.  The more we got into the rural areas, the more traditional architecture we saw.  At the next to last stop before getting to Fuji Five Lakes, we were treated to an awesome view of the mountain through the train windows, and we stayed put for a little while for some good shots.


We visited one of the Fuji Sengen Shrines, celebrating the diety Princess Konohanasakuya, who is associated with Mt. Fuji.  Supposedly there is a trail head for those who are hiking to and up Mt. Fuji, but we were there in the winter, and there was snow and ice.  Trail heads couldn't be seen.  We didn't have the right shoes for traipsing through the snow to see all of the grounds of it. A lovely shrine, with the red buildings making a stark contrast to the pristine, white snow.  It was lovely.



After a few additional sites, we made our way to the Ropeway, the cable car to the best viewpoint for Mt. Fuji.  We barely made it before they closed.  In fact, I sent Chrissy on up to get our tickets instead of helping me get up the steps.  There were handrails on both sides, so I could pull myself.  We were so close that by the time I got to the cable car building, they were putting up the closed sign.  They let me in when I gasped out that my daughter was already in there with my ticket.  By the time I made it up to the cable car, I was barely breathing, and the people on the one little bench hopped up, helped me in, and plopped me on the bench to sit and learn to breathe again.  The views were magnificent.  Worth every step.


We had some regional soups for dinner at the train station before heading back to Tokyo.  Note my green trainers.  By this point, I've gotten fairly good with the chopsticks.  The soup was delectible!


On our last day in Japan, we started with the Tsukiji Nippon Fish Port Market.  Lots of neat stuff with a bunch of restaurants scattered throughout.  Some were standing and some had seats.  We chose one that had a menu and a selection of items that drove past on a conveyor belt, and you picked up what you wanted.  Horsehair crab miso soup makes for a delicious breakfast!





We were hoping to take in a sumo wrestling match, but by the time we got there, tickets were sold out.  So, we just went to another part of town we hadn't been to yet and finally found Godzilla!


After wandering a while, we headed to the airport where we met our luggage and checked in for our flight to Beijing.  A short nap on the plane, and off in Beijing.  We made it through immigration and customs without problem, with our 24-hour visa free stamps in our passports.  I had made arrangements over WeChat (the Chinese version of Facebook) for a guide to meet us at the airport.  Peter was right there when we cleared customs, and off we went to the Great Wall of China.  We were there just as they opened.

To get to the wall, it was a short walk to the shuttle bus, a ride most of the way up the hill, a nearly impossible hike up the steep part of the hill (in which we needed multiple stops so I could breathe again), a cable car ride, and a relatively short set of stairs up to the courtyard at the foot of the wall.  We had to stop a few times climbing the steps, too.  Chrissy helped me up the stairs actually onto the Great Wall.  She basically had to pull me up those YUGE steps, but we got me onto the wall.  We walked to the closest guard tower.  After that, it was time for me to go back to the courtyard and let Chrissy have the opportunity to walk however much of the wall she wanted.  As she was helping me down those monster steps, one of the workers came up to take me from Chrissy and make sure I got down into the courtyard safely.  Once I got down and caught my breath, he started pointing out various vantage points to me.






All in all, the mini-Geezer did an excellent job on this trip.  I would trust her to plan any trip for me in the future.  And, though she was frustrated with having to stop so frequently so I could breathe, she got that built into our routine, and she searched out places for some short sits so I could catch my breath.  If she hadn't been there looking out for me, allowing me to lean on her when we couldn't find a place to sit, and encouraging me to take my time getting my breath back so I could finish up, I probably wouldn't have made it up to the wall.  Wouldn't have made some of the hikes we took, either.  Excellent trip with an excellent kid.  Love you, Chrissy!  Next time, let's do someplace warm, though!