Snow monkeys & nude dudes

Nude dudes, really ? Yep, keep reading ... The day is packed with plans as we head out early from the… [more]

Snow monkeys & nude dudes Snow monkeys & nude dudes

A dose of Mother Nature

Now that the title got your attention, I thought I would take a few minutes and fill you in on the past… [more]

A dose of Mother Nature A dose of Mother Nature

Back to Japan …

30 straight hours of travel; consisting of 2 car rides, 2 plane rides, and 2 train rides and I finally… [more]

Back to Japan … Back to Japan …

A Mucking Good Time !

It seems impossible that it has been nearly a year since my last update on this site. I guess I use Facebook… [more]

A Mucking Good Time ! A Mucking Good Time !

Joys of home brewing

After watching a few episodes of a new TV program called "Brewmasters", my passion for home brewing has… [more]

Joys of home brewing Joys of home brewing

Travelling Around Ireland !

I recently returned home from one heck of a 10 day trip to the Emerald Isle ! The "reason" for the trip… [more]

Travelling Around Ireland ! Travelling Around Ireland !

Finishing Strong …

I did not get a chance to update you with a new post because the last couple days have been a blur. I… [more]

Finishing Strong … Finishing Strong …

Fish Market & More …

Today was another early start ! Now, everyone who knows me, knows I love to go to markets, but this one… [more]

Fish Market & More … Fish Market & More …

2 Years Later !

They say that hindsight is always 20-20 ... and I would be inclined to agree ! It was 2 years ago this… [more]

2 Years Later ! 2 Years Later !
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Snow monkeys & nude dudes

Posted on : 27-02-2013 | By : Nathan | In : Travelogue

5

Snow MonkeysNude dudes, really ? Yep, keep reading … The day is packed with plans as we head out early from the Hotel. Our primary objective is to head north to visit the Jigokudani Snow Monkeys. Closely followed by a traditional Japanese onsen (hot spring water spa), a relaxing massage, and some dinner at a local Izakaya. Here is the skinny:

All week Derek, Miwa, and I have been looking forward to going to visit the snow monkeys. It is hard not to when it seems like every sign post and billboard we pass has been littered with advertisements. After a train ride, followed by a bus ride, then 30 minute snowy trek deep into the forest, we finally arrived at Jigokudani. Jigokudani translates to “Hell Valley” because of the boiling water that reaches the earth’s surface, causing steam to rise out of the valley.

The forest and valley open up to quite a site. However, we did not enter a zoo or enclosure of some kind. There were no walls or bars present to separate the monkeys from us. We were truly among them, watching them how nature intended. A few young monkeys were running by our feet wrestling with each other, others were carrying snow balls. Older ones were perched up on the hand rail having a nap, literally inches from us. As we continued further, the area opened up to 20-30 more monkeys playing tag or foraging for food in the snow. Some exchange glances as we passed, others are too focused on the task at hand.

The central location for viewing was a natural onsen, which is a hot spring water spa. The monkeys would just climb in and go to sleep, as if to relax from the day’s previous activities. Some would have smaller monkeys grooming them as they napped and enjoyed the heated water. Others would be the center of attention for eager tourists (like ourselves) to snap once in a life time photos. Across the river you could see even more monkeys playing on the side of an embankment or perched at a peak, as if they were a lookout.

None were aggressive. None tried to rob your pockets or backpacks. They did not seem to mind the company of humans in their natural habitat. It was as if there was an understanding that we were curious of how they spent their time, so they obliged by letting us watch. In total, there is said to be around 200 Japanese Macaque. I later found out that they do not even live at the onsen, they simply commute for a chance to warm up.

Spending time among the monkeys was one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had. I realize my words do not do this experience justice, so I was able to locate a live feed for you to check out. I also created a new image gallery specifically for the Snow Monkeys. There are some awesome shots, so please check them out when you get a sec.

After being outside all day watching the monkeys warming up in a warm pool of water, it was time for us to do the same. After some home made, hand cut, Buckwheat Soba noodles and freshly picked tempura mushrooms for lunch, we made it back to the train station. Lucky for us it is centrally located to numerous local onsens. Derek and Miwa attempted to give me some basic protocol regarding how these things work …

Chicks and dudes are separate, no exceptions. Everyone is nude, no exceptions, though you do get a tiny towel to keep with you. There is typically an indoor and outdoor facility, along with a community bathing area. The natural spring water is freaking hot, nearly too hot for me. The outdoor area was by far my favorite. There is something about being outside in the freezing weather, but still sweating from the hot water. I will spare you all further details and mental imagery that accompanies the thought of me being naked with a bunch of 80 year old Japanese dudes though. After a quick shower sitting on an 8 inch stool, we headed back to our hotel in Nagano.

A quick massage and a tasty dinner at a well-decorated Izakaya and we called it a night.

Unordinary: Coca Cola machines that sells beer? Yep, check that off the list! Show Me!

A dose of Mother Nature

Posted on : 26-02-2013 | By : Nathan | In : Travelogue

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Japan 2013Now that the title got your attention, I thought I would take a few minutes and fill you in on the past 2 day’s happenings. I lumped them together mostly because the activities of each were very similar. Summary: Both days started with a bus journey into the mountains, snowboarding, lunch, more snowboarding, a bus journey back to the hotel, then traditional Japanese dinners. High points are as follows:

Weather conditions were unbelievable, consisting of constant 40+ mph wind and minimal visibility. Hardly anyone would brave the trip up the mountain in these conditions, except us ! Fortunately, we had ample gear to protect us from the wind, though temperatures dropped well below 0 with the windchill factor. It felt like the wind was literally going to blow you right off of the mountain. At nearly 200 pounds, Derek and I were OK. However, poor Miwa only weighs about 90 pounds, so we were a bit nervous with her. Any trail marked “closed”, large signs marked “Danger”, and straight up trail blazing through the wooded areas were all fair game. (no sheep here) The resort ended up shutting down nearly every lift because it simply became too dangerous.

Something about braving/enduring conditions like this makes things an adventure … Sitting on the side of a mountain with nearly eight thousand vertical feet to descend in a matter of minutes. The wind hurling at your back, forcing you closer to the edge with every gust. You prepare to do battle with the toughest runs the mountain has to throw at you. As you make your line choice and commit, danger surrounds your every move. Extreme focus and critical decisions made in an instant tax your brain, the ever-changing terrain taxes your body. Simply reaching the bottom is considered a victory. Memories like this wont be soon forgotten, and truly serve as life affirming experiences ! Filed under surreal.

On the bus ride home, though I was deep in an audio book, I heard about 30 cell phones go off at the same time. Oddly, they each had the same ring tone. Not like anything I have heard before though, more of a strange warning pattern of some sort. I looked over at Derek and Miwa to glean any additional info. They promptly informed me that this was an earthquake alert, and it was happening live. They quickly looked it up and it actually occurred in our current area. Since we were on the bus, we did not actually feel it. Once I arrived back to the the hotel, I did a bit more recon. Here are a couple articles: Fox News & CNN. Monday was a day Mother Nature was not to be trifled with !

One of the dinners we went out for is called Yakiniku. You basically order small amounts of the meat and grill them on a little mini grill in the middle of the table. Various cuts of 1-2oz portions of the cow are available, so you can compare/contrast each. The meat is all locally sourced and exceptionally flavorful. This dinner solved the age old question of quantity vs. quality, period.

After dinner, we headed to an Izakaya, a Japanese bar with local finger food & drink. The staff was very friendly and were interacting with us throughout. I was able to try Burdock root, fried in tempura batter & a spicy mayo. Wow, no need to have french fries with this stuff around ! Towards the end, one of the servers admitted that they rarely have foreigners (gaijin, somewhat derogatory) in the establishment. They asked if they could pose for a picture with us, so we obliged. A little strange to be honest. However, they did provide us with hand warmers upon leaving to ensure we were warm for our walk home. The little things make all the difference.

I finally got a most of the technical issues sorted out with the camera and web site. Please take a look at the gallery section to see some of the recent photos. Lots more to come, so keep an eye out.

Unordinary: For some reason music video parody’s are all the rage right now. Current entry: The Harlem Shake

Back to Japan …

Posted on : 24-02-2013 | By : Nathan | In : Travelogue

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Japan 201330 straight hours of travel; consisting of 2 car rides, 2 plane rides, and 2 train rides and I finally arrived in Nagano Japan. My best buddy Derek & his wife Miwa greeted me at the airport and we were ready to roll.

This time I did not let myself fall victim to the jet lag and opposite sleep timing associated with arriving somewhere that has 12+ hours time difference. How you ask ? Don’t sleep the entire way there ! It is brutal, but when you arrive, and it is nearly midnight, you have not choice but to go straight to sleep. You then wake up 8 hours later magically aligned to the new time zone. Lesson learned from the last trip … write that down.

So today’s plan was simple: Snowboarding. After a sampling of numerous Japanese paleo-friendly breakfast delicacies at the buffet, we were off. Another hour long bus ride up into the mountains got us to Hakuba Happo One, the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. There was snow early on, and it only picked up steadily throughout the day. Some of the black diamond runs had over 2 feet of fresh powder and an 8-10 foot base. Toward the end of the outing, the conditions were near white-out offering a mere 5 feet of visibility.

Derek had some hellacious high speed flips (we called them kabuki rolls) but remained unphased, as he miraculously transitioned from his head to his feet several times. In a classic “tortoise and the hare” scenario, Miwa was able to conquer the runs without issue, much more in control and significantly slower. Around 4 pm most of the lifts had stopped running due to inclement weather, so we took that as a our queue to pull the rip cord.

I can’t remember much about the bus ride back because I was napping to a marginal audiobook. However, I think Japanese buses are made for people considerably smaller then me. IE: I had no feeling from the waste down due to near fetal positioning in the tiny bench seats.

A well deserved dinner immediately followed our arrival back to Nagano. We went for Yakitori We sampled everything from chicken, liver, beef, duck, and more. The restaurant was a very intimate setting, holding maybe 15 people max. We were lucky enough to get a table and enjoyed course after course of the mini skewers as the ever-attentive service staff kept the very traditional Japanese dinner progressing. One particular highlight was a Beer called “Yebisu Stout – Creamy Top” which reminded me of Guinness, but only available here. Was a great dining experience, and highly recommended !

So, where are the pics ? A few technical difficulties are currently plaguing my digital upload situation. Namely: Did not bring a card reader for the Sony memory stick, camera battery died, permissions issue on the web site that I am just too tired to troubleshoot. I will work on these when I get time …

Already missing Niamh and Sco bigtime … Gonna hit the sack … Up in another 7 hours for round 2 at the mountain !

Unordinary: Sweet Brown, I ain’t got time for that: Link

Travelling Around Ireland !

Posted on : 24-09-2010 | By : Nathan | In : Travelogue

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I recently returned home from one heck of a 10 day trip to the Emerald Isle ! The “reason” for the trip was to visit Niamh’s newest nephew William, and attend his Christening. Even though the trip was only for 10 days, we managed to pack in tons of fun sites and adventures.

Dusty, one of Niamh and I’s good friends, didn’t have much going on so he decided to join us for the trip as well. And with Niamh’s best friends Dee and Noel at the helm of our various road trips, how could we go wrong ;) Check out this summary of the trip, day by day:

Day 1:
- 2 hour convertible ride in rainy 60 degree weather through the Dublin Mountains
- Irish breakfast (fry) with white and black pudding
- Night at Sippers  – Proper welcome w/Guinness and Oysters

Day 2:
- Noel & Dee’s Condo
- Guinness Storehouse Tour
- Temple Bar area (including Goggerty’s & Ring a Ding sing-along)

Day 3:
- Rock of Cashel
- Cork – stayed at Ashley Hotel (click for review)
- Supermac’s for lunch
- Blarney castle and stone (I kissed the wrong stone)
- Oval bar and Oshea’s pubs

Day 4:
- Kinsale and Charles Fort
- Kilkenny Castle and town
- Bociellos for dinner & night on the town

Day 5:
- Christening and after-party

Day 6:
- Viking Splash Tour
- Dublin Tour (Molly Malone, Spire, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Etc….)
- Ate at the Chipper and watched “the Van”

Day 7:
- Bunratty Folk Park and Castle
- Knapogue Medieval Banquet (served mead, sang, and danced)
- Stayed at the Monkswell B & B (lock in)

Day 8:
- Quin Abbey
- Cliffs of Moher
- Burreen (limestone rocks)
- Lisdonvarnagh (matchmaker convention)
- The Bog (drove by)

Day 9:
- Citywest golf outing
- Dublin (Carroll’s gifts, Petersons, Porterhouse, Temple Bar, etc)
- FXB steakhouse for dinner (click for my review)

Overall, this was one of the best trips to Ireland I have ever had. Noel gets a special thanks for getting us a free cart rental at the golf course … even though he scored 0 skins out of 18 holes, he is still a winner in by book. I want to thank Niamh’s family for putting up with our “shenanigans” and also Dee and Noel for handling all of the navigation, organization, and trips out and everything.

Unordinary: Apparently there is a raging debate between who has the best ketchup in Ireland. Half of the people think it is “Chef’s” and the other half think it is “Heinz”. Well, allow me to be the tie-breaking vote: click here to find out !

Leave a comment & checkout the gallery for more pics.

Finishing Strong …

Posted on : 09-05-2010 | By : Nathan | In : Travelogue

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I did not get a chance to update you with a new post because the last couple days have been a blur. I am just now finding time to sit down and write a post for the last couple days, even though I leave for the airport in only a few hours. We packed TONS of activities into the last 48 hours …

We started off yesterday morning bright and early, and making our way to the Tokyo outskirts where Tokyo Disney is located. The park was very busy since it was Saturday, but we managed to ride all of the major attractions. To be honest, the park was just like what we have in the states. However, it is a bit smaller, and the rides are a little less aggressive. Not to mention, there were only 2 white people there :) We rode “Big Thunder Mountain” and “Space Mountain”, ate some tasty snacks, and went to the “Haunted House” and more. A good time was had by all !

We worked up one heck of an appetite for dinner, after an entire day of walking around the amusement park. Derek kept talking about this style of dinner called “Shabu Shabu”, so we had to give that a try for sure. We were lucky enough to stumble upon a really good “isakaya” a block from our subway station. It was on the 5th floor and we had a view of the beautiful city lights. Shabu Shabu consists of heating broth and vegetables on a burner at the table, then dipping your meat into it to cook it. Once everything is thoroughly cooked, you use your chopsticks to eat. It was a typical Japanese style meal, where food just kept coming and coming, all at different times, all cooked perfectly.

The night was still young, at just past 9pm, so we decided to go to another Karaoke bar called “Big Echo”. We flipped through the thousands of songs, sang our hearts out, drank lots of beer, and had one heck of a time ! I actually ended up losing my voice by the end of the booth rental time, which was likely a good thing ;)

Today we slept in a bit due to the previous nights festivities. Once we were awake and freshened up, we headed out to watch something I have been waiting years to see … Sumo Wrestling ! We got lucky with the schedule, because today was the 1st of the 15 day tournament, and Derek was able to get us tickets months ago. You would not believe the spectacle, pageantry, posturing, and bad ass wrestling we beheld at today’s event. Some of these guys weighed over 600 pounds and were fast as lightning. We watched around 40-50 matches, all the way to the final where the current “Yokozuna” (highest rank of sumo) whipped his opponent. Very cool indeed !

The last mission to accomplish was to get some sushi. We took the subway to Shinjuku Station and located a fantastic sushi restaurant a few blocks away. This place only sat about 30 and it was packed with locals, as well as foreigners, so we knew it would be good. We got our fill, drank some beer, and had a postmortem on the trip. We decided to head to one final bar called Heartland for one last beer before heading back to pack for tomorrow’s trip home.

unordinary: Well, it’s Mother’s Day, so I thought my mom would get a kick out of this Japlish translation.

I want to thank Derek for single-handedly putting this trip together. We have been talking about this for years, and there is no way it would have happened if he hadn’t organized it. I am really thankful to have such a great friend who would go to such lengths to make all this happen. Time sure went by fast, but the memories will last forever.

I appreciate everyone who took time to read my blog, check the pics, and leave comments.

Japan, done ….