Thursday, June 25, 2015

2015 Wendy Tour

The 2015 edition of the Tour-de-Licious, aka Wendy Tour, stayed a little closer to home.  A Wendy Tour is a supported bike tour organized and supported by Wendy Sigerson, a professional caterer.

This year's 7-day tour started in Sacramento and the route took us into some of the finest countryside in Northern California for cycle touring.

The 285 mile tour took in Napa Valley, Russian River valley, along the coast of Sonoma and Marin counties, over Mt. Tamalpais into San Francisco.

On the final day, we rode across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco, caught the SF Bay Ferry to Oakland, and returned to Sacramento on a Capitol Corridor train.

The weather was glorious the entire week.  Even the coast which is usually thick with marine layer during the summer months was clear and we had a spectacular finish to the tour on Ridgecrest Road.

This year, 13 riders participated in the tour.  One major logistical change was the use of a U-Haul truck to carry the food and cooking equipment rather than cramming everything into Wendy's van as we did the previous two tours.  With age, we are getting smarter.

We also took advantage of two particularly scenic areas and scheduled layover days at Casini Ranch and Olema Ranch campgrounds to have extra days to explore these areas.

To view the tour album, click on "Wendy Tour #3 (2015)" below photo:

From Wendy Tour #3 (2015)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Kyoto Yoga Tour

I'm entering an era in my life where I am seeking unique and unusual travel experiences.  I still love cycling and hiking trips but now I am open to diversifying my travel adventures.

When Carrie Meyer, a yoga instructor at It's All Yoga Studio, announced that she offers a 10 day tour of Kyoto combining daily yoga practice with tours of the city, the light-bulb in my head lit up.

"Wow!" I said, that sounds really cool and unique.  I mentioned this trip to Peter Saucerman and Susan Twining who attend yoga sessions with me and they thought this would be a fun trip.  They never been to Japan before.

Susan mentioned the trip to her sister, Kris, and a few other friends and before we knew it, Carrie had the required 7 people to sign on which is the minimum number she needed to do the tour.

Historic Kyoto with over 1,200 temples and gardens was fortunately spared from bombing during WWII.  It is an amazingly beautiful city and I consider it to be the Florence of Japan.

Carrie, who lived in Kyoto for 3-4 years back in the '90s, put together a 10 day tour featuring her favorite places.  We stayed in two hotels during the tour - first a western-style hotel and the second, a traditional Japanese ryokan hotel.

We visited some incredible temples, gardens and special places, with each succeeding day exceeding the previous day's experience.  She took us to a wide variety of restaurants which Kyoto has no shortage.  Some were really unique and all were outstanding.

On the two free days we visited Nara, another major historic city, and a bicycle tour of Kyoto on the other.

Each morning, we started with yoga in the Imperial Palace Park.  I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming when laying on the grass in front of the Imperial Palace.  Unbelievable is an understatement.

The tour was well paced, very interesting, the food outstanding, and most of all - FUN!  The camaraderie among the group was great.  The total experience was beyond awesome!

To view the album, click on "Kyoto Yoga Tour" below photo:

From Kyoto Yoga Tour

Naoshima and Teshima (Art) Islands

The incredible journey through Japan continues.  Following the 10 day yoga tour in Kyoto, Peter, Susan, Kris and I continue on our own for 10 more days.

Credit for the next 10 days itinerary goes to Kris Twining who researched unique places to visit, booked hotel reservations, determined the modes of travel and all the connections.  Everything went smoothly without any hiccups.

Our first stop were two small islands noted for its cutting edge architecture, modern art, and natural beauty. The four of us are modern art and architecture nuts so spending 4 days on Naoshima and Teshima Islands were unbelievable.  If environmental and experiential art is your thing, this is the place for you.

Most Americans know very little about these islands as most of the visitors we met were Europeans and Japanese.  Through this blog post, I'm hoping serious modern art aficionados will put these islands on their bucket list.

The renown Japanese architect Tadao Ando designed three museums on Naoshima Island and the art houses in the village of Honmura are truly amazing.

The Teshima Art Museum on Teshima Island was even more astonishing as were some of this island's  art houses.

Our accommodation on the island was equally interesting.  We stayed in a Mongolian yurt for 3 nights.

To view the album, click on "Naoshima and Teshima (Art) Islands" below photo:

From Naoshima and Teshima (Art) Islands

Hiroshima and Miyajima Island

We continued to head south after the "Art Islands" to Hiroshima and beautiful Miyajima Island.  The last time I visited was 30 years ago.  My ancestral roots are in Hiroshima and I have relatives living here but have lost contact with them.

We booked one night a piece in Hiroshima and Miyajima.  The main attraction in Hiroshima is the A-Bomb building and Memorial Peace Park.

Spending a night on Miyajima Island was a wise decision.  Viewing the iconic O-Tori Gate and Shinto Shrine at night was truly memorable.

To view the album, click on "Hiroshima and Miyajima Island" below photo:

From Hiroshima and Miyajima Island

Tokyo Story

Tokyo with a metropolitan population of approximately 36 million people is the most populous city in the world.

According to Trip Advisor and its world city survey, Tokyo ranked first in "the best overall experience" category and also ranked first in the following categories: "helpfulness of locals", "nightlife", "shopping", "local public transportation",  and "cleanliness of streets".

In spite of its Godzilla size, Tokyo was ranked the third most livable large city in the world and has the most Michelin star restaurants of any city.

We ended our Japan trip in Tokyo and booked 5 nights at a hotel near the Ginza.  Our consensus from our experience - we would fully concur with the findings of the Trip Advisor survey.  We would also add the sense of public safety and cleanliness of public toilets to the list.

We only had enough time to see the area around the Ginza and Ropponji Hills District, two of about a dozen major hubs of the city.  The list of places to see and experience is almost endless.  But what we saw over the five days was a pretty exceptional.

To view highlights of Tokyo, click on "Tokyo Story" below photo:

From Tokyo Story

Tsukiji Fish Market

This is my third trip to Tokyo and I finally made a visit to the famous Tsukiji Market, the world's largest fish market.  The market was established in 1935 and over 80 years has grown to  process over 2,000 tons of marine products per day.

The market consists of two sections - inner market where most of the wholesale business and the famous tuna auction takes place and the outer market whose retail shops and restaurants cater to the public.

The inner market consists of hundreds of small stands in a large, crowded hall, where buyers and sellers hurry along in long, narrow aisles in electric carts and hand trucks. It is chaotic and hazardous with vendors dodging camera toting tourists.  It is quite an amazing scene.   After 9 a.m., the general public is allowed to enter the inner market.

The outer market, about two full city blocks in size, consists of small retail shops and restaurants.  There are no restrictions for tourists to visit this area.

The life of the old market is coming to an end.  In 2016, the Tsukiji Market will close and relocated to a brand new facility on Odaiba Island.

Peter, Kris and I ventured down to the market and after immersing ourselves in the total experience, regrouped for a late breakfast of fresh sashimi.

To view the album of the market, click on "Tsukiji Fish Market" below the photo:

From Tsukiji Fish Market

Tokyo Bicycle Tour

One of the highlights of Tokyo was a bike tour of the Waterfront and Central Area.  We signed up with a Noel Curry, an expat American, who leads urban bike tours for small groups and operates his business - Tokyo Bicycle Tours.

My first thought was you have to be nuts to ride a bike in Tokyo, one of the largest and densest cities in the world.  But Noel stresses safety and by following his instructions, riding on the streets of Tokyo was quite easy and fun.

Seeing Tokyo by bike is a great way to see the city and Noel took us to places most tourists never see.     He also gives a running commentary of the history, culture and people of Tokyo so the tour is a total experience.

A couple from the UK joined our group for a 7 hour, 30K tour.

To see highlights of the bike tour, click on "Tokyo Bicycle Tour" below photo:

From Tokyo Bicycle Tour