Saturday, May 28, 2016

Down Unda: Sydney Days 1 & 2

In March we did something that I've been wanting to do for 12 years!  We visited Australia!!!  Ever since coming home from my mission in June of 2004, I've wanted to go back and visit, and to take my family with me!  Being here in Japan has opened up so many traveling opportunities for us, and Australia was one of them.  It is so much more affordable to fly to Australia from Japan than from the states, so we figured that if we didn't go now, who knows when we ever would.  And because the prices are so much less flying from Tokyo, we figured out that we could fly all 5 of us (well, we went 2 weeks before Bennett's second birthday, so technically we only had to pay for 4 tickets ;)) for the same price as if only Peter and I were to go from the states.  So, in short, it was too sweet of a deal to pass up!  And even better . . . once we arrived in Japan and conceived of this plan to visit my old mission country, we began accumulating Marriott points on our credit card so that we would have enough built up to pay for all of our lodging!  Mission accomplished!  By March we had enough points to stay at Marriotts in Sydney and in Brisbane for 8 nights for free!  The hotels were unbelievable--they were in beautiful and ideal locations.  It was absolutely perfect.

The flight from Tokyo to Sydney is LONG.  About 9.5 hours.  We took a redeye (with 3 kids--super fun btw) and arrived very early the next morning.  Even though the flight would be rough, we thought it would be worth it to have a full day ahead of us that wasn't eaten up by traveling.  Which turned out to be true, for the most part.  We dropped our bags off at the beautiful Pier One Sydney Harbour Marriott, which is essentially right beneath the Harbour Bridge!  The back of the hotel is on the water and it was gorgeous.  

After walking around the Harbour a bit, we were starving, so we decided to pop into a burger place that looked pretty good.  And, I don't want to brag or anything, but we happened to pick the best burger joint ever!!!  Seriously, it was amazing!  The place was called Ribs and Burgers and it was at The Rocks right by the Harbour.  Peter and I each had "the burger with the lot", which in my opinion, is the only way to eat a burger when in Australia!  The burger came loaded with beets, a fried egg, bacon, cheese, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, and pickles!  Soooooo delicious.  This is the food I have been missing since my mission!

After eating lunch, we opted to take a red, double decker Hop On Hop Off Bus.  This was a great way to see the city, especially since we didn't have a car and there aren't really any trains.  Sydney is so beautiful and there is so much to see, but let me tell you, sitting in the hot sun on top of a bus the day after taking a 9 hour redeye flight with kids can make you quite sleepy!  Hahaha, we may have struggled to stay awake, and more than a few us dozed off for a bit as well.  Needless to say, we didn't "hop off" as often as we'd planned on doing!  But, it was great nonetheless and we took it over to Darling Harbour, which is a really cool area and has a super fun playground and water/splash pad area for kids.  It was the perfect way to end a hot day of sightseeing.  Well, the playground plus the yummy ice cream bars and Aussie treats and drinks that we snacked on of course!

At the end of the day, we strolled back past the Sydney Opera House to our hotel exhausted, and ready for sleep.

Day 2 in Sydney we woke up and check out of our hotel and had a taxi drive us about a mile over to the Sydney Harbour Marriott where we checked in to stay the rest of our time while in Sydney.  Overlooking Circular Quay, this hotel was incredible!  We had a great view of the Harbour and of the Opera House from our window.  Gorgeous.  

After checking out our new room, we loaded up and headed out to catch the ferry to take us across the bay to Manly.  

We had a fabulous day in Manly!  We rented bikes, one with a half-wheeler attached for Will and one with a trailer attached for Bennett and Clara.  Then we took off to explore!  And, let me tell you, with 3 kids under 6, biking is so, so, so much better than walking!  We rode over to Manly Beach and to the cliffs on the far end to explore "the wormhole".  This was the perfect, short hike to do before soaking up the sun and playing in the water.

We hopped back on our bikes and found a little beach cafe after climbing on the rocks and through the wormhole.  We ate delicious fish 'n chips, my very, very favorite Aussie meal, and then rode over to Shelly Beach to camp out for the rest of the afternoon.  

Our day in Manly was absolutely perfect!!!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Dental Conference in Guam

In January (I know, I know, still trying to get caught up . . . ), we joined Peter on an extended weekend trip to Guam.  He had to go to present a couple of lectures of continuing education at the Guam Dental Society's Dental Conference.  And since the Dental Society was paying for Peter's flight and hotel, we decided it was too great of an opportunity to pass up and we decided to pack up the family and all go together!

The only downer about the trip was that Will was plagued with a terrible stomach bug that hit the day after we arrived.  Of course.  We have traveled and had bad luck with sick kids so many times now that I don't know why I ever expect everyone to be healthy!  Luckily, he was only sick for a couple of days and was still able to have loads of fun (despite a rough night of vomiting).

We stayed at the Hilton, which had beautiful pools, one of which was an infinity pool and another had a slide that Will pretty much spent the entire time going down.  We spent much of the first two days at the hotel swimming and hanging out and letting Will recover.

It was pretty rainy one day, but we decided to go and check out the Fish Eye Marine Park anyway!  The Fish Eye is an underwater observatory about 1000 feet out in the water.  We got drenched on the walk out there!  But it was worth it!  The kids loved seeing the fish out the windows and it was an easy, quick visit.

My favorite day in Guam was when we went to Tarza Waterpark.  A little old, and some parts rundown, but it was so much fun!  And absolutely perfect for our kids!  Will loved the rainbow slides and Benny and Clara loved the beach entrance to the lazy river.  Peter and I tried all the big slides and had a blast as well!

One evening we went out to Two Lovers Point, the site of an ancient Chamorro legend of two forbidden lovers that run away to the cliffs over the ocean and tie their hair together before they jump to their death.  Kind of a tragic if you ask me!  But the views were spectacular!!!

Probably the funniest thing we did in Guam was going to a local morning flea market!  It was . . . not quite what we were expecting!  Haha, it was more like a yard sale with a bunch of people selling their kids' old toys!  Pretty funny.  But, hey!  We got Clara an Elsa Barbie doll with some little girl's scrunchie in her hair and Will got a nerf gun that works most of the time!  So so awesome.

We also spent a day at the awesome PIC waterpark.  The PIC is a hotel, but you can buy a day pass to their waterpark, which is what we did.  They have everything--pools of all sizes, slides, water toys and obstacles, canoes, and a beautiful beach.  And the lunch buffet was amazing!!!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Jigokudani Monkey Park--Checking Seeing The Nagano Snow Monkeys off our Bucket List!

After visiting Matsumoto Castle, we stayed the night in tiny little Airbnb apartment in Matsumoto (decorated interestingly in a manga theme . . . ) and woke up that morning to fresh snow!  It was perfect!  We were heading to Nagano to see the snow monkeys and we were excited to be able to see the snow monkeys actually in the snow!

It ended up being a very cold and icy hike, but it was worth it!  Seeing the snow monkeys in their natural habitat, scurrying all over the place--practically running over our feet and bumping up against us--was amazing!

The workers at the park feed the monkeys three times a day just to keep the monkeys in the area, and we arrived right as they were getting their morning meal, so right as we walked up, the monkeys came scurrying down the mountain in a big herd.  It was crazy!  And then to see them run around, splash in the river, and soak in the hot springs was so awesome.  

William had his camera with him and was totally into the whole experience.  It was almost more fun to watch Will getting excited and following the monkeys around to take pictures than it was to just watch the monkeys!

Overall, it was an unreal experience!  And one for the books--we can check it off our bucket list now!

GPS Coordinates:  36.732827, 138.462134