Hiking in Madrid – Collado Mediano

Collado Mediano Area Hike and Mountains

After 3 weeks of walking on sidewalks, hearing sirens, seeing mostly buildings, cars and people, and stressing out about finding an apartment, it was time to get out of the city.  I had initially planned on just taking the train up to the mountains when I suddenly stumbled upon a website about Hiking in Madrid.  I hadn’t even thought about hiking here but it turns out there are lots of mountains and river valleys nearby so why not?  It would also be a great way to get some fresh air, meet some more people, and get more comfortable using our great local transportation.

I contacted them to get more information on upcoming hikes and I went to the local bookstore to pick up a copy of their book.  Their Saturday and Sunday hikes both sounded great.  Robert had some work to do on Sunday so we opted for Saturday’s hike.  For 10 euro (plus transportation) we met at the bus station at the pre-arranged time and we were taken to our destination outside the city to hike for 3-4 hours – lunch and a drink afterward are included.  There were 28 people that went that day.  Most of them live in Madrid.  Most of them spoke both Spanish and English.  They were of all ages and from all over.  Someone even brought their dog.  We had people from Israel, Britain, Mexico, Lithuania, the US, and other parts of Spain.

Our Hike Reminded Me a lot of Arizona

This particular hike was about 45 minutes outside the city near the small town of Collado Mediano (which means Middle Valley).  When we arrived in town, we had a 20 minute break to stock up on water, get breakfast, use the bathroom and check out the town before heading out.  The croissants we had was SO good, we should have bought more.

We headed up and out of the village.  There were trails going in every direction (many mountain bike trails), so it was good to have someone point out which way we were suppose to go.  Our hike was pretty much straight up hill to the top.  The rock outcroppings, vegetation and mountains here remind me a LOT of southern Arizona.  It was plenty hot that day too – which also reminding me a lot of Arizona.  Next time we go, I’ll know to bring extra water and another back pack.

View of the valley

We had a great time.  It was exactly what we needed.  Good exercise but very relaxing at the same time.  The views along the way were great.  We could see the world’s largest cross in the Valley of the Fallen off in the distance.  We could see the many surrounding mountains, several reservoirs, and other towns and villages dotting the countryside.  We eventually found a nice shady spot in the pines to have our lunch (which was peanut butter sandwiches, bananas, and chips).  We had lots of interesting conversations that day and met lots of interesting people.  Eventually we headed down the mountain – which was easier.  It was mostly a long winding path back down the side of the mountain we climbed.  There were thunderstorms in the area which cooled the temperature a bit and provided us with much needed cloud cover.

When we returned to Collado Mediano, we had to wait over an hour for the next bus to Madrid.  Which was great actually, because we were thirsty.  And here in Spain there’s nothing better than just sitting outside at one of the local taverns and having some drinks and tapas.  And that’s exactly what we did!

For more pics, just click on the photos.

Croissants!

Largest cross off in the distance

 

Our Japanese Tour Experience on Iriomote Island

Urachi River Cruise on Iriomote Island

Urachi River Cruise

We’ve always been DIY travelers, but since it was the off-season in Okinawa and Iriomote Island is mostly uninhabited and operating on skeleton schedules, I really did not want to mess something up and get us stuck on this island.  There was also a lot we wanted to see and do.  We thought it might be nice to actually have someone else do all the planning – so we asked the Concierge to book us on a Japanese Tour.  We knew we wouldn’t be able to understand any of the narration – but that didn’t bother us, we live with that every day.  We were just looking forward to relaxing and being like little ducklings for a day.  They were even going to pick us up and return us to the hotel.

Our nearly full tour bus left the hotel at 8:00am.  I had a vague idea what the overall itinerary was, but I never received a detailed schedule.  The bus dropped all of us off at the ferry terminal and we were told to stand in line (along with dozens of other people) and wait for our turn at the counter.  When we got there, the guy said a bunch of stuff in Japanese and handed us some tickets.  The only two things we understood was Gate 6, Boat 1 and return to the counter at the end of tour.  We were hoping for a bit more information than that.  We boarded the completely full ferry, a little nervous.  I think we looked, acted, and sounded as confused as we were.  When we arrived at the island, we headed for another line (that everyone else was in) hoping to get some direction (we didn’t know what else to do).  Fortunately, a gentlemen in a hawaiian shirt approached us directly and said “B Course?  Bus, this way”.  He led us to a bus (we noticed the sign in the bus window had four letters, one of which was B).  Now we were starting to feel a bit more comfortable.   The crowd we were with had finally been narrowed down.  When the bus was ready to go, the hawaiian shirt guy came onboard asking everyone (in Japanese) if anyone knew English (other than us), but no one did OR at least no one admitted they did – in fear they would have to babysit us all day.  That made us start worrying all over again.

River tour in Iriomote

River tour in Iriomote

He said something to the bus driver, and we were off.  The coach ride was actually very nice.  With lots of big windows and seats much higher up than a car – we had a great view of everything.  Right away it became evident that the island is almost completely covered with a thick subtropical primeval forest.  If you are not on a river, a road or some well trod path you won’t be able to go anywhere.  The island’s only main road follows the coast to the other side of the island – and that is where we were headed.  In route, our bus driver did a lot of talking and the passengers did a lot of laughing.  We were able to pick out a few things he talked about (or pointed out): the Iriomote cat (no, we didn’t see one), the kanmuri-washi bird (a crested serpent eagle), the waterfalls, some islands, something about pineapples and mangos, and the hot springs.

The bus did stop once about 1/2 way to our destination and some people got off (happily we knew this was not our stop – unlike one of the other couples).  We arrived at the Urauchi River by 10:00am.  As we exited the bus, we noticed the bus driver had scribbled down on a sheet of paper (just for us):  Bus go 1:00.  Ahhh, I think we can do that!  Maybe this trip wasn’t going to be as difficult as we thought.  We soon boarded a little cruise boat.  Someone handed us a sheet of paper saying 12:40. We figured this must be the time the boat would return.  The boat only had 12-15 people on it, so we had lots of room to move around and get a good view of everything the captain was pointing out.  Aside from the sound of the boat engines when moving, it was ultra quiet going up river.  The further we went, the more tropical and lush the vegetation became.  We passed mangroves, saw some big white birds, a couple kayakers, more waterfalls, inlets, fish, and another kanmuri-washi bird (this one actually dove in and caught a fish).  I was really expecting to see a lot more birds. The other rain forests we’ve been to were full of birds and creature sounds, but here it was so quiet.

River tour in Iriomote

Water Fall seen on River Tour

We docked at the trail head around 11:00.  We confirmed with the captain that the boat would leave at 12:40.  I knew we were suppose to hike to some waterfall 30 minutes away, so we followed the others along the trail.  Off we went, but at a fairly slow pace – Robert’s knee was all of a sudden really bothering him (probably from his swim the night before).  He almost turned around twice, but he stuck with it.  Luckily we didn’t encounter any wild boar or snakes to run away from. 🙂  We made it to the observation tower of Mariyudo Falls and even a bit further, but the path down to the falls had been closed (looked like it was washed away), so we headed back.  We returned to the dock with a few minutes to spare (there was no way WE were going to be late).  The captain almost left a couple of young girls there who were a couple minutes late arriving.  He probably would have left, if it was us instead of them.  The boat trip back was much faster but so relaxing.  It was a beautiful sunny day and we were just soaking up the rays and the scenery.

We boarded the bus at 1:00 and were quickly dropped off for lunch.  The drivers notepad now said: Bus go 1:50.  A yummy Bento box lunch was waiting for us at a lovely little restaurant (which we would have never found ourselves).  One waitress knew enough English to explain to us everything we were eating.  There was a lot of food, but we ate everything – I guess we were hungrier than we thought.

Yubu Island

Yubu Island Warning Sign

Our first stop after lunch was the other star sand beach.  This time, I decided to look for it.  I figured it would be easier to spot them if I put the sand on the black coral – and sure enough there it was!  I showed it to Robert, and he we was able to find some – pretty cool.

The bus slowly made it’s way back to ferry terminal along the same road.  The bus driver didn’t talk much this time, he just played some Okinawan music playing.  Robert took a nap.  Our last stop was Yubu Island.  I really wasn’t interested in visiting this very small island, but it was included in the price, so we went.  It actually ended up being quite fun and funny.  We even got to see the water buffalo family tree.  Our water buffalo cart driver played us some music on his sanshin and we watched all the carts being pulled back and forth across the shallow sand bar.  The water buffalo are really strong, though not very cute.  The island was full of sandy paths going every which direction.  We walked all of them, entertained by all the silly creatures and features along the way.

Before we knew it, we were headed back across the sandbar and boarding our bus for the last time.  We eventually boarded the ferry back and then returned to our hotel.  That was it.  We did it!   We managed to make it through the day without any problems or mistakes.  It made for a very memorable experience and we would consider doing it again.  I wonder if this now makes us professional Japanese Tourists? 🙂

Hiking Miyajima Island, Plus Hiroshima & The Peace Park

View of Torii Gate

View of the Famous Floating Torii Gate

We finally made it to Hiroshima and Miyajima.   After a series of really wet weekends, the weather could not have been more perfect for our trip and I’d have to say that these two UNESCO World Heritage sites were well worth the year long wait.  Even though they are extremely different, we enjoyed both of them very much and would go back there in a heartbeat.

We knew there would be lots to see and sacrificed sleeping in on a Saturday morning to be out our door by 7am.   Since Miyajima was more difficult to get to, we decided to do that first, which meant buying lots of tickets and making lots of connections (from our subway, to the bullet train, then transferring to a regular train, and finally onto a ferry).  Fortunately everything went smoothly and we were in Miyajima by 10am.  We even managed to figure out the lockers at the train station so we could store our luggage while we explored the island.

Close-up of Doe & Fawn

Doe & Fawn

While we were on the ferry, Robert was busy snapping pictures as I stood anxiously watching the torii gate approach.  After seeing so many pictures of this torii gate, it was hard to believe we were actually here.  The island (Istukushima) is very beautiful…it’s steep and very forested.  The island is still considered sacred and pure in the Shinto religion.  In the past, commoners were not allowed on the island, and all other visitors had to go thru the torii gate before stepping on the island.  There are still some strict rules in place…no cutting down trees, no births and no deaths.  The highest point on the island is Mt Misen which rises up directly behind the torii gate to a height of about 530 meters (1,750 feet).  We had originally planned to take the ropeway up to the top, but Robert said his back was feeling fine, so we decided we would hike it instead.

Robert eating the Maple Leaf

Snacking on Maple Leaves – yum!

Everyone visiting the island had smiles on their face….(you’d think you were at Disneyland).   Tame deer roamed the streets, there were little chariots carrying happy couples around, and lots of quaint little shops.  There were also lots of statues, lanterns, and traditional Edo period Japanese buildings.  We didn’t have a map, so we just followed the crowds and wondered around – looking at everything.  Occasionally we’d see signs, pointing us in the direction of Mt Misen.  We also saw signs telling us not to pet or feed the deer, but the Japanese sign must have said something different because they were doing both constantly.

We visited the pagoda, walked around the “1,000 tatami mat” pavilion (Senjokaku) and explored the back streets of the village.  We found a shop making the little maple shaped cakes (momiji manju), so we stopped and sampled their two flavors and had some tea.  We eventually ended up at the main temple, Daisho, and spent a good hour taking photos and enjoying the scenery.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t very crowded and some leaves were starting to change so we really took our time there.  However, I knew it was getting late and we still had our hike to do, so we continued on our way.

View near top

View from Mt Misen

Our hike up Mt. Misen (Mount Stair-Miser would be a better name) began near the temple.  I don’t know if anyone has ever counted how many stairs there are, but I’d venture to guess there were at least a couple thousand (it took us nearly an hour to climb it).  Some sections were so steep that it was very obvious there had been some recent landslides and extensive repair work had been made.  At times I thought the stairs would never end.  The views just kept getting better and better, so we kept going.  We even had a fantastic view of the torii gate at low tide…all the people walking up to it looked like ants.  The trail followed a stream/waterfall most of the way up.  It was very shady and there were only a handful of other hikers.  Thank goodness it was a cool day because I was extremely thirsty (I didn’t have my water bottle and there were none of those famous vending machines along the way).  The views from the top were spectacular.

YakiKaki !

Grilled Oysters!

I would have loved to hang out there had we had picnic provisions, but since we were both extremely thirsty and hungry, and neither of us can tolerate walking down steep downhills anymore (darn knees!), we decided to take the Ropeway down.   After a 15 minute ride we were back amongst the masses and the vending machines!  The line to go up was incredibly long so we now know never to do that.  Robert was craving some grilled oysters (yakikaki), so we waited about 15 minutes for our delicious appetizer and then moved on to find some anago-buri (eel on rice) for a late lunch.  Again, (true to the Japanese tradition), we waited in another line at the restaurant.  The anago-buri was amazingly delicious (oishii!).  Sunset was approaching, so we figured we should make our way back to the ferry…passing the torii gate one last time, and delaying our departure as long as we could.

We went back to Hiroshima, retrieved our luggage and checked into our hotel.  Fairly exhausted from our long day, we relaxed for a while, shared a beer and opted for a carousel sushi dinner.   We got up early so we could experience the Peace Park with as few visitors as possible.  It ended up being another beautiful day.  We walked along the river to the A-bomb Dome – which is quite impressive indeed.  It seems frozen in time.  Stray cats run around it just like in some dystopian tale.  It’s hard to write about our experience there, as a worthy description of both the Dome and Peace Park cannot be captured in words.  It’s something that must be experienced first-hand.

A-bomb dome View

A-bomb Dome

The visit to Hiroshima completed a full circle for us.  Some 20+ years ago, we visited the museum in Los Alamos, New Mexico – the birthplace of the A-bomb.  I still remember that day vividly.  It was an incredibly weighted experience (just as watching Schindler’s list was).  It rendered both of us speechless and depressed for hours.  It is shocking to realize the kind of destruction man is capable of.  We have since then also visited Nagasaki (the site of the 2nd nuclear bomb dropping), and we live relatively close to where the 2nd bomb was initially intended to be dropped.

As horrible as that part of history was, it’s nowhere near the devastating nuclear capacity we have today.  The recent events in northern Japan is a constant reminder of how dangerous a game we are playing.

At the end of the day, I left Hiroshima feeling hopeful – because I didn’t like the thought of it ending any other way.

Montana Summer 2011 – A Reminiscence (nice word, thanks spellcheck!)

Cow on the way to the butcher.

Death Next Door – but Tasty!

We had a great, but very dramatic summer.  We returned to floods all over Montana, record snow fall, a deer that took up residence in our backyard and a leaking pipe in our basement.  Shortly after getting everything back in good shape, we had a long, violent thunderstorm with golf ball size hail that wrecked havek on our yard, house and truck – which now requires us to get a new roof, new gutters and our deck repaired.

The events kept piling on.  There was lots of drama on the family side of things, including fires threatening family homes in AZ, a dear uncle dying, and a cousin who shot his 40+ dogs and now is dealing with the law.

On the positive side of things, it was absolutely wonderful to see our families, friends and pets (which we missed very much) and we spent lots of time outdoors and doing some great hikes.  Rose got to fly down to AZ to see and spend time with her mother and a couple of sisters.  We enjoyed having friends visit and we got to eat some really great meals (sorry Japan, we still prefer American beef) and drink some fantastic wine.  It was the fastest two months we’ve ever had.  I can’t believe it came and went so quickly.  Hope you enjoy these pictures highlighting our summer (click on a picture to seem them all).

4th of July in Luther (Parent's House)

Spending Time with Family & Friends

I’m not sure either of us were really ready to leave our beloved Montana yet (as fall is also spectacular here), but at the same time, we were both excited to get back to Japan and the adventures of teaching and travel.

Rock Creek Valley

Our Playground

NZ: The Wildly Wet West Coast

Coastal Scenery

The West Coast

We woke to heavy rain.  We knew it was coming, and we knew it was not going to be a typical storm.  The precipitation forecast models indicated dark purple (meaning very heavy rain) for at least 36 hours.  Fortunately, we weren’t in a big hurry to go anywhere.  This old farmhouse turned B&B was a great place to hang out – until they kicked us out.

Our tasty breakfast was served from 7-9am.  The combined kitchen and dining room in this place was huge.  Conversations at the table revealed that everyone at the B&B was headed north today, since there was no reason to hang around town…as every activity was canceled.

When we finally checked-out , we were given a calender, map and information sheet.  It still ended up being a beautiful drive – with even more waterfalls than before (if that’s possible).  We noticed the rivers were rising quickly, some were already rushing from all the rain in the higher elevations and the water color was now brown.  There were a few stretches where water was already crossing the road.  My trusty driver was probably getting a bit worried about potential flooding.  Fortunately, the rain let up as we moved north and in spots it wasn’t raining at all.  We stopped a couple of times to view the wild beaches and rocky coastline.  We even stopped in Hokitika to check out a few jade shops and watch one guy work in the studio.

Weka (baby raptor)

Weka (a miniature raptor)

We continued our drive down the coast through Greymouth and then to Punakaiki.  Another break in the rain allowed us to walk out to the pancake rocks and blow holes.  Because of the storm, the surf was exceptionally high and the sea was quite dramatic.  Our hotel was very close by so we checked into our eco-suite (which is a nice way to say: not fancy).  We had a pretty view and a nice little patio area. We were soon visited by a Weka who obviously was not afraid of people and kept acting like he wanted to come in our room.  He even charged at me when I opened the door and then rapped on the window with his beak.  Robert joked that he was from Jurassic Park since he looked and acted like a miniature velociraptor who wanted to kill us.

When I booked our hotel room three months ago, I opted for the package that included dinner, drinks and breakfast….which ended up being a great move, because neither of us wanted to go back out in that storm to find some dinner.  We hung out in the lounge, drinking beer and wine and watching the waves.  We then moved to the dining room to have our meal and a few more drinks.

Kitty so cute

The Cafe Kitty

After another great nights sleep and a big breakfast, we checked out to move to our next place, a B&B about 90 minutes north near the end of the West Coast highway.  On our approach into Westport, we noticed the highway to Nelson was closed (which we needed to take tomorrow).  When we crossed the Buller river it was running bank to bank.  We now knew why all those river beds we crossed were so huge, and I was hoping it wouldn’t get any worse or we’d be stuck in Westport for a long time (actually, that wouldn’t be so bad).  It was in Westport that we learned about all the road closures on the South Island due to flooding and slides.  We had to call our B&B to make sure we could still get there.  After checking out the town and getting some coffee we made our way further up the road.  The rain storms were coming in like waves with at least some blue sky and calm breaks between them now.

We stopped at the Drifters Cafe to have a beer and split a lunch.  A super soft, cuddly kitten was there for us to play with.  We ordered the red chicken curry which was very good and by the time we finished it was time to check into our next B&B.  We met our host, Gay and her dog (ironically named Storm).  We unloaded our stuff and told her we really wanted to do the hike along the river to see the waterfall.  She told us how to get there and gave us a couple of torches (flashlights) for the tunnels.  It appeared as if the storms may have finally stopped – so out we went.

Huge Falls at Charming Creek

The Falls at Charming Creek were like Niagra Falls

The trail followed an old mining rail track (there were lots of cool mining relics along the way).  The sunshine was so beautiful and shining brightly in the canyon as the river below rushed along something fierce.  There were several spots where we were very tempted to turn around, but we kept going.  Dark clouds quickly set in and all I wanted was to get to one of the tunnels.  Fortunately, we made it to the tunnel just before it started raining hard.  We had to wait 5-10 minutes before we could continue our hike.  We passed several other hikers coming back who apparently didn’t have shelter during the last downpour.  The rains created temporary waterfalls requiring us to go through them in order to get to the swing bridge.  And to see Mangatini Falls we had to cross that bridge.  Robert nearly chickened out (he doesn’t like heights), but I went across.  Robert soon got up enough nerve to cross the bridge….and he was glad he did.  The falls were WAY bigger than we had imagined.

On our way back, the trail and temporary waterfalls were already drying up.  We were almost back to the B&B when the final storm came through.  We hung out for the rest of the evening drinking a bottle of wine and conversing with our host about the storm.  Later we went back to the cafe for an incredibly good pizza and to check out the local rivers.  They all had come down a good bit…we were hopeful the highway would be open in the morning so we wouldn’t have to take the detour.   The other couple staying at our B&B came from Nelson and they had to take the 4 hour detour to get here.  We kept checking the NZ transportation department website and slowly the roads were opening back up.  By the time we went to bed all roads were open except two (one of them was our road to Nelson).

NZ: The Amazing Glaciers

The day after Christmas things were back to normal in Queenstown and the Boxing Day sales had begun.  Lucky for us that meant we got our new camera (similar to the one I just killed) at 30% off normal price.  We still weren’t able to take pictures – not until we got to our next B&B and had a couple hours to charge the battery.  Why can’t a camera company just make one battery to fit all their cameras?  Why do they all have to be different?

After our purchase, we were off to the West Coast.  We climbed back over the Crown Range, and followed alongside the shorelines of both Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka and into the Makarora river valley.  After passing the small community of Makarora, we entered into Mt Aspiring National Park.  I expected another dramatic pass to get over the alps, but it never happened.  Turns out, this is the lowest pass through the Southern Alps at only 1,600 feet.  We were now back in the beautiful rain forest with waterfalls every 15 feet.  At times I felt like we were in some digital movie created by Steven Spielberg…it just didn’t seem real.  We stopped near Haast to use a rest stop and were greeted by the native sand flies.  They weren’t anywhere near as bad as I read about, but they were a bit of a nuisance….enough so that we ate our sandwiches in the car rather than at the picnic table.

We continued our drive…passing some cyclists.  We were amazed at how many cyclists there were on this island and despite the weather how they sucked it up and rode through the rain and brutal winds.   We eventually passed the turnoff for Haast and the view of the ocean was in sight.  We now started heading north.  This part of the coast had rocky cliffs like Big Sur.  The beech forest was now mixed with ferns of every size (some as tall as palm trees).  The forest was so thick we could barely see through all the plants and trees.  Sometimes it was like driving through a tunnel when the trees formed a canopy over the road.  We passed more streams, lakes and waterfalls.  After about an hour we finally saw a road for the Fox Glacier.  Only being a couple miles in from the ocean, we wondered how far away it was.  We drove past the exit, crossed over a large bridge, and saw another access road to the glacier which said it was only 4k (2.5 miles), so we decided to “give it a go”.  We arrived at a gravel parking lot and saw people taking pictures, so we stopped to have a look.  Right there in front of us was the glacier.   I had no idea it would be this close to the ocean or this far down the mountain.  It was nothing short of amazing.  We were totally bummed that we couldn’t take a picture.  We walked over to a large sign and read a notice informing us the hiking trail to the glacier was closed due to an ‘ice dam’ that had formed over the last few days and was now in danger of breaking.  They warned that no vehicles should be left in the car park over night.  On that note, we decided to continue on to Franz Josef hoping the weather held out long enough for us to see that glacier too.

Another View of the Glacier

The Franz Josef Glacier

Another 30 minutes north we saw the turn off for the Franz Josef glacier and drove in.  We got a glimpse of this one from the road.  It looked like a long huge frozen river.  We parked the car and walked through the forest to the lookout point.  There were no restrictions on hiking to this glacier, so we continued on toward the terminal face.  As we got closer, we could see people hiking on top of the glacier (they appeared the size of ants).  It took about 30 minutes to get there, and actually, the closer you got, the less you saw, because the glacier is so large you can no longer see past it.  It was pretty cool to see one of the few glaciers that is actually advancing.  There were signs and pictures along the way, showing the glacier at different stages over the last 150 years.

We walked back to our car and it started to drizzle.  We drove up to the township and found our B&B.  We checked in, charged our battery, had some tea and cookies in the lounge area and talked with our host about the area.  We then drove around town to find a place to have a beer.  We settled on The Alice May.  I had the locally brewed Ridler bier which had a citrusy flavor, Robert went with the Black bier (similar to a Guinness).  We watched some cricket on the TV (which was being played at the MCG in Melbourne), and decided to stay for dinner too.  I’m glad we did…the food was great.  We shared some sweet potato soup, fish & chips, and an evilly delicious sticky toffee pudding.

As we were leaving, I noticed we had another break in the storm, so we decided to drive back to the glacier (with our new working camera).  When we got there, it had cleared up enough for us to see it again. 🙂

I did some research later and learned that the Southern Alps actually have some 140 glaciers.  Only two (Fox & Franz Josef) actually make it all the way down to the rain forest.  This is the only place in the world (other than Argentina) where this occurs.  It is truly spectacular to see…logically it seems like these glaciers shouldn’t be here and they should have melted long ago.

Hong Kong Day Two

Day 2 in Hong Kong

Birds in Hong Kong Aviary

It ended up being a beautiful morning, the skies were clearing, and the city officials lifted all typhoon warnings, so everything was back to normal.  I was going to head for Kowloon on the other side of the causeway, but I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to see the city from the infamous Peak, so I decided to head to the Tram via Hong Kong Park.

City Parks usually don’t excite me much but this one was great.  In the first 5 minutes I passed some fountains, lakes, waterfalls, and watched turtles sunbathing on the rocks.  I don’t know if this was a typical Saturday morning here, but the park was not very busy…it almost felt like I had the whole place to myself.   I made a quick detour into the tea museum which actually ended up being quite amusing….I had no idea how many designs you could make with tea sets.  I was almost out of the park, when I found the walk-through aviary, and I totally lost track of time in there.  I didn’t end up getting to the Peak Tram until lunch time.

View from the Peak in Hong Kong

View from The Peak in Hong Kong

I bought my ticket and while I was waiting for the tram,  I met a wonderful couple from northern England who lived in Hong Kong during the 70’s.  It was fun listening to their stories and their suggestions for things to do while here.  They said they always come up to the Peak when they return and walk the loop.  The tram is one of the oldest operating funiculars in the world, having made it first journey in 1888.  It is also very steep.  There were several times during the 7 minute journey to the top I prayed the cable would hold, because the alternative would be very depressing.

The view of the city from the top of the peak is specatacular.  I’ve seen pictures of this view many times in my life, but nothing beats seeing it in person.  Sadly, I can’t believe that on top of this beautiful hill they built an ugly shopping center that looks like a concrete boat and beside that they built another shopping mall.  Fortunately, I had planned on walking the 2 1/2 mile trail around the peak – which is still well preserved, beautiful, and a great way to spend a relaxing day outdoors escaping the hustle and bustle of the city.

That night, I brought Robert back for the night view – which was equally spectacular.  We had a delicious Indian dinner outside in the courtyard of the Peak Lookout restaurant (which use to be the old tram station).   It would have been nice to avoid the lines for the tram, both up and down, but those were inescapable.  Despite the lines, we still ended up having a wonderful evening.

Spending the Day on Nokonoshima Island

We awoke to another beautiful autumn day here in Fukuoka, and planned to take the ferry to the nearby island of Nokonoshima to see the cosmos in bloom.  I adore cosmos, so I couldn’t wait!  At 11:00am we biked to one of the other teacher’s apartments to help make cosmos (the drinks) to take with us to the island (so we could have cosmos in the cosmos).  There were quite a few people already at the apartment when we arrived, and they seemed to be doing more sampling of cosmos than making of them. : )

And now for the real cosmos

Cosmos as far as the eye can see!

Soon, we headed for the ferry terminal.  The group of us that biked arrived ahead of those who took the bus, so we caught an earlier ferry and waited for them on the island.  The smell of grilled hamburgers consumed the pier so we went inside to eat some lunch.  When the others finally arrived a few of us decided to head to the park while they ate since we needed to get back to town earlier.  We boarded a bus which took us up a narrow, windy road to the top of the hill to the park.  The bus seemed to defy the laws of physics as it squeezed past other full-sized buses carrying passengers on their way down.

Coming here was obviously “the thing to do” today…every family in Fukuoka seemed to be here (including our next door neighbors, Takashi and Mayuko, and their two kids, Shugo and Mizuki).  People were walking through the flower fields, picnicking, lounging on the lawns, playing Frisbee, eating ice cream cones, feeding goats and chickens, riding sleds, making pottery – and just enjoying the weather and one another.  At times I felt like I had wondered into some child’s picture book.  Slowly we made our way from one end of the park to the other until we reached the pot gold (or should I say the cosmos galaxy).  Wow – what a view!  We were bewitched by the colors and smell of the vast multitude of flowers covering the hillside.  It was so intoxicating we didn’t want to leave.  We hung out there for a LONG time.

However, it was starting to get late and we had to start heading back…we ran into the rest of the group near the exit/entrance, and chatted awhile (they all had cosmos cups in hand).  As they floated into the park, we headed out.  I wanted to take the nature trail back down to the ferry terminal, and after seeing the line for the bus, Robert decided not to fight me on this one.  The trail was beautiful.  This is as close as we’ve come to hiking here in Japan.  We walked through a large canopied bamboo forest from one side of the island to the other…it was very relaxing…filled with bird calls, creepy forest sounds, and some of the largest and most beautiful spider webs I’ve ever seen.  As we got closer to the town, we saw old island homes, vegetable gardens, rice being dried in the field, and a bunch of fisherman and their boats.  We barely missed a ferry…we watched it leave as we approached the dock.  We noticed the line for the next ferry was already forming, so we headed over to make sure we caught the next one.

We were a little bummed when we got home and found out we had a small smudge on our camera lens…we had to crop all our pictures to try to remove the small blurry spot.  Fortunately most of the pictures we took looked great even with the smudge!  We had a wonderful time and are anxious to return and see other seasonal flowers in bloom.