Archive for tag: travels

Hiking Diamond Head

I'm still looking through photos from our recent Hawaii vacation, but here are some more from our hike of Diamond Head.

DSC02845 DSC02895We stayed our first two nights in Hawaii on Waikiki, then the rest of our vacation at the Turtle Bay resort on the North Shore.  We decided that we would hike Diamond Head as a stop on our way between.

We figured it would be a pretty easy hike, but some of the signs gave us a little pause.

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Hmm…

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Throwing caution to the wind, we continued anyway.  It wasn't too far before we were able to enjoy some nice views.

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And of course, more signs warning us of impending doom.

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Ever stalwart, we bravely pushed on and were rewarded with more spectacular views.

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Close to the summit, you are given a choice - the short cut up these stairs, or going along the trail. DSC02860

We chose the longer route which afforded more views anyway.

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At the summit, we found a surveyor's mark DSC02874

So we posed for a picture with it to prove incontrovertibly that we made it to the summit.

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I’d like to be… under the sea…

I know I've been neglecting my blog lately.  To make up for it, here is a photo slideshow from our recent Hawaii vacation.  Amber booked us on an submersible scooter excursion.  Despite the first few pictures, we didn't see any turtles underwater first hand, but we did see one from the boat, and it was a lot of fun.

They made us do the shaka sign, by the way.

More photos from Hawaii to come.

London

I've been a little derelict in blogging this past week, but as of yesterday, I'm in London on business for a week and I'm sure that I will have some time fighting jet lag to rectify this.

First of all, this past week was a little disappointing on the weight watchers front. Despite my best efforts and staying well within program, my weight change was basically flat. Maybe it's because I still haven't really integrated any exercise into my efforts. I'm staying positive, but it's definitely better when you are making good progress. I'm pretty happy when I look at things over the course of the past month, so I'll just try to stay focused on that.

With my travels and eating out, I'm sure the upcoming week will be challenging, but I'm hoping that I'll at least manage to stay flat. Toward this goal, I've brought exercise clothes and I'm going to utilize the gym at the hotel and at least get in some cardio.

We got in yesterday afternoon, but we didn't really do any sight seeing until today.  This place was pretty busy last night with Saturday night revelers, but this morning it was much quieter.

Park Lane 

Dave and I headed to see Churchill War Rooms, cutting across Green and St. James parks to get there.  I got a few more pictures en route.  These guys were clearly on their way somewhere.

Everyone loves a parade! 

This guy kind of stood out amongst the rest of the birds, but didn't want to look up to have his picture taken.

Proud as a swan?

You can see the London Eye from the park.

St. James Park Lake and the London Eye

This guy stood out too.  I think he's a pelican, but like his friend above, he seemed a little camera shy.

Pelican?

The Churchill War Rooms was interesting, but as it is an underground bunker turned into a museum / historical site, with exhibits largely behind glass, it proved pretty hard to get any good pictures.  Here's a blurry Enigma machine.

The Enigma

This is Churchill's actual bedroom.  They've done a great job preserving this place.

Churchill's Bedroom

I'm not much of a history buff, but the museum was definitely interesting and having visited, I do find myself more curious about Churchill.  I might have to do some reading.

After leaving the War Rooms we made our way toward Trafalgar Square to visit the National Portrait Gallery and found that it was packed with folks celebrating Chinese New Year.

Happy Year of the Dragon! 

We fought the crowds and made our way into the gallery, but jet lag and hunger were kicking in, so we didn't stay very long.  Speaking of jet lag, I think I'm going to have to call it a night.  I'll be sure to post more about the travels later.

Ape caves

Amber is in the other room finishing up a run on the treadmill, so I thought I'd do some work toward my resolution to blog more this year.  I didn't have anything in particular to write about, so I thought I'd find some pictures to post from 2011.  What I discovered is the following:

  • My pictures from 2011 are completely disorganized
  • With the exception of wedding-related pictures, I really didn't take that many last year
  • Most of the pictures I did take are pretty bad

Given this situation, I've decided to post some pictures that are bad, but for good reason: they were mostly taken in the dark.

Back in September, Amber and I did a day trip to the Ape Caves near Mount St. Helens.  It was a nice warm day outside, and we were dressed appropriately… for the weather outside.

In the sun

What you can't see outside of frame is the sign that describes the proper equipment for exploring the caves, including long pants, hiking boots, and coleman lanterns - none of which we had.  We did have head lamps, a couple of flashlights, and Amber (clearly the smart one) brought a fleece.  I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt.  We happened to get there just in time to join a guide on an interpretive hike into the caves.

Here's the entrance to the caves:

Into the darkness

Inside the cave, it turns out that it is around 42 F year round, and water drips from the ceiling.  Here I am in the earlier stages of hypothermia:

Brr...

We hiked the easy part of the caves that day, the lower Ape Cave.  The darkness in the cave is not something I encounter in my day-to-day existence.  Usually there is some source of ambient light visible.  Down there, there is none.  If you turn off your lights, it is very creepy.

Cameras work better with light

We took this arm-length shot by turning off our lights and guessing where the camera was pointed.Cheese!

Once we were back above ground, we drove to some of the nearby trails and finished our day in warmth and sunlight hiking Lava Canyon - but not without other peril, as you can see.

Is this really a good idea?

Death lurks at every turn...

It was a pretty trail, with rapids and interesting rock formations.

Rapids

My least favorite part of the day: the suspension bridge we had to cross on the trail.

Do we have to?

We lived to tell the tale, though and had a thoroughly fun day.  Here's to lots more adventures in 2012 and blogging about them in a more timely manner!

We survived!

Farewell to the Dominican Republic

Heading on our excursionFor those of you who were wondering, tropical storm Emily was pretty much a non-event for us, although it certainly caused problems in other areas of the Dominican Republic.  We were even able to get in our snorkeling excursion Thursday, even though it was kind of a gray day.

After navigating a little language challenge trying to figure out if we were really getting on the right bus, we headed out for the one and only time we actually left the resort during our stay.  We drove the same road we took from the airport to a place called Dolphin Explorer.

The first part of the Dolphin Explorer experience was seeing the tigers and posing with a parrot for a picture or two.  Because when you think marine life, you naturally think that tigers and parrots are going to be a part of the experience.Tiger!

Tiger!

Pretty girl. And the parot is kind of cute too.

Then they had us watch a "safety" video.  Safety first. Or at least second or third.

You can't see them, but to the left and right of our little area are two other partitions where they have videos blaring in other languages.  The overall result is that no one can actually understand any of the videos.  We obviously lived to tell the tale, so I guess it worked anyway.

Soon enough, we were swimming with some actual marine life.Sea lions are cool.

Fresh!

The ray.

After frolicking with the Sea Lions and Rays for a bit, we loaded up on a boat and headed out to snorkel.  As you can see, they had us wearing life vests the whole time we were in deep water, but I don't really think it was necessary.  The water there is so salty, it's hard not to float on the surface.  I might feel differently if I wasn't wearing one at the time, but they seemed to get in the way a little.

Thanks to our great friends Anne and Kevin, we had a dry bag to put a camera in, so we have some pictures and video from the water.  When people realized that it was Amber's iPhone in the bag (our cameras didn't quite fit), we got quizzical looks and queries in several languages asking (we think) whether we were sure that we wanted to risk such a valuable piece of technology.  We had tested it in the pool, but it was still a little worrisome to take it in the water.  Fortunately, it worked perfectly.

Snorkeling

Snorkeling Who you lookin' at?

The video is probably more fun to look at, but I need to do some editing before I put that up.  The water was pretty clear, but as you can see, it was a little dark out that day, so we couldn't see very far.  Still, it was cool to see the coral and the few fish that were around and we had a fun time.  I'm definitely looking forward to another snorkeling adventure at some future time.

After snorkeling, they took the boat into what they called a natural pool, where we hung around in the shallow water drinking and lounging in the water for a while.

Finally, more lounging time.Finally, more lounging time.

I didn't realize it at the time, but after we got back on board, the boat turned into the set of a rap video.  Everyone was drinking and dancing - the only elements that were missing were the Cristal champagne and the rappers.

The next day, Amber and I bid farewell to Punta Cana.  Our trip was fun and relaxing and everything we wanted in our honeymoon.

My Sweetie and me.

More Dispatches from Punta Cana

Amber and I are still on our honeymoon and having a lot of fun relaxing in the sun by the pool or at the beach.  I'm actually mostly relaxing in the warm shade because I do burn if I'm not careful.  I have evidence of this as despite my best efforts, I managed to burn my shoulders lightly.  I'm really not complaining, mind you.  It's been great.  Here's what the view has been like most of the time.

view from lounging

We have been taking breaks from our lounging efforts to take dips in the adjacent water, be it pool or ocean, and seek out sustenance.  We've even mustered the energy to do a couple more daring activities, including our paragliding adventure.

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As you can see, Amber and I did a tandem glide and it was smiles all around (including our chute).  It was kind of cool and fun, but also a little scary for me.  I have a fear of falling and I don't think I was well seated in the harness, so I think I could have enjoyed it more.  I'll give it another try some other time before adding it to my "never again" list.

We are taking a break right now from our lounging outside to lounge a little inside.  It's been raining off and on today, but mostly not enough to have to be inside, especially if you are in the pool and wet anyway.  Right now, however, it appears to be really coming down.  It turns out that Tropical Storm Emily might be headed our way.  We're hoping for good weather as we've signed up for a snorkeling excursion.  It's already been bumped once due to low visibility.  Hopefully we'll still get to do it this trip.

Even if we don't manage to do our snorkeling excursion, this trip has been excellent.  We had a romantic dinner on the beach Sunday night that was unforgettable.  Best view ever.

Our table

I'll spare you most of the sappier pictures, but here's just one.

Dining on the beach with my Sweetie

Dispatches from the Dominican Republic

Our wedding was wonderful and we keep reminiscing and looking at the few preview pictures we've gotten from our photographer and those from friends that have been kind enough to share.  Everything went amazingly well, including catching a break on the weather.  I promise to post more about it (hopefully you are looking forward to it), however this post is about here and now.

The here and now is our honeymoon in the Dominican Republic.  Here we are at the airport, shortly after buying tourist cards for $10, from one agent, walking five feet, and turning the same tourist cards into another agent.

Tired, but excited

Specifically, we are at Dreams Punta Cana.  We've been here for about a day-and-a-half and we are having a blast.  We got in about 2:00pm local time yesterday after spending about 15 hours en route, including a somewhat harrowing hour ride from the airport to the resort.  The two-lane road seemed to be populated mainly by small motorcycles, often with two passengers, and the occasional van or tourist bus.  Our driver, who seemed very competent, don't get me wrong, had a bit of a penchant for passing... with little room to spare at times.  Or at least it seemed in my travel exhaustion.  The same exhaustion helped keep me from getting too excited about things, though, and we made it safely to the resort.

At the beach

Unfortunately, neither of us got much sleep on the way here, so we crashed for a couple of hours when we got in, but not before having a bite to eat and a quick peek at the beach where there was a wedding happening!  They weren't as cute as us (I'm not biased, am I?) and they certainly didn't catch a break on the weather like us, as a light tropical shower started up as they were in the middle of the ceremony.
We might not have made long enough to witness this, but we were checking in a bit early, as it turned out, and we had to kill some time before our room was ready.   Soon enough, we were resting peacefully in our room and after a couple hours of napping , we decided to go find some more food.

(Yeah, right, like I'm going to give you any more details than that about the time we spend in bed!)

We headed from our room to try the Japanese steakhouse, but it wasn't entirely clear where it was from our resort map.  We found ourselves in the nearby main lobby looking for help.  A friendly hotel staff member, whom we assumed was a concierge, offered us some chairs and we thought he was going to help us to the restaurant.  Alas, Celestian was not a concierge, and before we knew what was going on, we were getting signed up for a timeshare... er... "vacation club" spiel.  We managed to push him off until Sunday (not sure if we will bother to attend) but by the time we'd escaped and made it to the Japanese steakhouse, they were full for the evening.  Oh well, there are still other opportunities to have people juggle sharp knives and throw shrimp at us this trip.

So instead of Japanese, we had Mexican for dinner and then watched a hypnotist show at the main stage.  Neither one of us were brave enough to volunteer - I have an irrational fear of audience participation.  There weren't any shortage of volunteers and the show went on without us.  I actually think the volunteers were hypnotized, but Amber was more skeptical.  The most interesting suggestions to me were making people forget things like their last names or the number six.  Okay, not exactly hilarious, but interesting that you could (possibly) suggest to someone that the number six did not exist and watch them skip it several times counting on their fingers.

Just as the show finished up, the sky opened up and started dumping rain.  It was actually pretty cool - lightening and thunder and everything.  The power went out in our room, but didn't stay off long enough to be a problem and we fell asleep to the sounds of the rain on the roof.

Today was a vastly different day.  It was sunny and warm all day and the beach was awesome.

The view from my lounge chair

We spent most of the day there, cycling between hanging out in the water, applying sunscreen, and relaxing in beach chairs.  The water here is warm and incredibly salty and it is really easy to float.  When we tired of the beach, we moved to the pool for a little while.  We even managed to make it to the fitness center for a short workout this afternoon as well as write some postcards to friends and family back home.

I wrote most of this post in the lounge tonight as we were waiting for our room to be made up.  When we headed back to our room, we discovered two things: it started raining again tonight and there was a tarantula hanging out on the path back to our room.  I tried to get a picture of it with my phone, but unfortunately it was too dark to see even with the flash.

Time to order room service.  Because we can.  Hooray for all inclusive!

It's been a great day.  And I'm sure there are more to come.

So I lied…

Yeah, apparently I lied about posting over the weekend.  Um… three weeks ago.  Anyway…

Life has been pretty busy.  Wedding planning/activities have been progressing.  Recent activities included working on the menu with our venue, cake tasting and engagement pictures.  We are still working on the menu, but we've settled on a vendor for our cake: Mike's Amazing Cakes.  The engagement photo session went well.  Or at least it seemed to.  We haven't actually seen any pictures yet so I guess we really shouldn't judge.  But the actual posing seemed to be okay.

Amber near the Paris HotelWork has been a little insane lately, but this weekend I'm heading to MIX in Vegas so next week should be back to sanity.  What's better is that Amber is heading down for a long weekend in Vegas, so we get some R&R together before the conference and in the evenings.  We were there for MIX last year too, but it was a little earlier in the year and despite what appears to be nice weather, it was incredibly windy and too cold to hang out by the pool.  Hopefully this year will be better and we will get some much needed sunshine.

It probably isn't a great idea to advertise when you are away, but for those nefarious individuals who might take advantage of such information, our friend and trusty cat / housesitter, Eric, will be here.

In other news, I have continued to be a slug, but Amber did the Mercer Island Half Marathon a couple of weekends ago.  Here's a before picture:

Amber before the big race

Here's an after:

Amber after the big race 

She got a PR, but would've liked a better time.  Of course, if it were me, I'd still be out there running.

It was a really nice morning and I took a some pictures while she was running.  Here are a few of the ones I like:

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Like I've said, I've been a slug lately and not eating very good to boot.  So when I get back from Vegas, I need to really focus on exercising and eating better.  Any suggestions?  Maybe I need to go back through the blog and see how many times I've said something similar.

Pictures from SeaWorld

While Amber and I were down in California last month, she took me to SeaWorld.  We saw a bunch of shows, including Shamu: Believe.  I think this was my best picture from the show.

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The weather was consistent with the rest of the weekend - gray and cool - so we didn't go on any of the water rides.  But we did check out all the sights.

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These guys were the stinkiest.

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As you can tell, it was a very happy time with my Sweetie.  :)

You can check out the rest of the photos in my flickr set SeaWorld.

In case you were confused, just the flamingos were stinky, not us.

A Wonderful Weekend

Amber and I had a great weekend celebrating her birthday (and more…).  We both had so much to share about it that we decided to wait to write it all down until we could both do a blog post together.  So she and I are sitting next to each other right now writing about the weekend from our individual perspectives.

Michael's story:

I wanted to surprise Amber for her birthday.  We'd both been lamenting how quickly the summer had passed us by so I wanted to surprise her with a weekend getaway to somewhere warm.  After much deliberation, I finally settled on California, specifically Coronado Island.  We'd planned to go to California earlier this summer but had to postpone and we had a lot of fun on our last California adventure for her high school reunion last summer, so I thought we would really enjoy it.  So I asked Amber if she could do a three-day weekend over her birthday (10/16) and went ahead and booked it.  All I told her was that she should pack for someplace warm.

It wasn't until we were parking at the airport Friday evening that I revealed our destination.  I actually managed to surprise Amber, and we were both excited for the weekend.  Of course, I had another surprise for her, but she didn't know that quite yet.

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We arrived in San Diego late Friday evening, picked up a rental car, headed to Lowe's Coronado Bay Resort, and finally settled in for the evening.  The next morning, we got up and after breakfast at the hotel, we headed out to do some exploring, starting with the beach.

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The only downside in my clever plan to whisk us away to somewhere warm and sunny was that it turned out that San Diego wasn't warm and sunny.  It wasn't too cold, so it wasn't too bad, but it was still overcast.  Unfortunately, I was hoping for a nice sunny beach for Amber's next surprise.  So I decided I would wait and hope for things to clear up.

We wandered around Coronado for a while, getting sand in our shoes and checking out the houses near the beach, then decided to head to Old Town and maybe do a trolley tour.

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It turned out that our visit coincided with an art fair there, so we wandered around the shops and the historic structures and checked out the art for some time.  Long enough to get pretty hungry.  But still no sun…

After looking around for a snack and not finding anything to our liking, we finally gave in and headed to El Cajon for the legendary carne asada burritos and fish rolled tacos.  We arrived at Guadalahara, but to our surprise, it was renamed and no longer served the fish rolled tacos.  At least they still had carne asada burritos.  And the person working there was a sister of a classmate of Amber's that we had seen there last year.  As she did last summer, she asked if we were married yet.  Of course, the answer was no, but I got the feeling that the universe was trying to interject a little foreshadowing into our dining experience.

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We checked out what was playing at a nearby drive in theater for possible entertainment options later, then headed back to the hotel to chill out in the pool.  Still no sun though…

When we got back to the hotel, Amber started getting ready to head to the pool, but I couldn't wait for my other surprise any longer, so I told her that I had a surprise for her, but I wanted to give it to her by the water.  So we walked out around the backside of the complex to a view of the Coronado Bay and Bridge.  That's where I took Amber in my arms and time kind of stood still.  I told her how much I loved her and how I wanted to share my love and our commitment with our family and friends.  I pulled out the box that had the wedding ring I'd been carrying with me all day and asked Amber if she would marry me. 

Amber has been telling everyone how cool I was all day long and how I didn't let on like anything was up right up until I told her about the surprise and took her to the view of the bay.  My only explanation is that I didn't have any reservations at all, that I know without a doubt that I love her and that she feels the same.  It was an easy question to ask.

Amber's answer was yes. 

The rest of the weekend was great.  We hung around the pool (not for long because the sun never really came out).  We went to Mission Beach and rode the rollercoaster.  We went to Sea World and out for a great dinner at Prado at Balboa Park.  We went to the beach again.  But for me, the rest of the weekend was us basking in happiness.  And looking at the ring on Amber's finger and being happy and in love.

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Amber's story:

A few weeks before my birthday, my sweetie told me we were going somewhere for my birthday! I was stoked, I figured Leavenworth or Victoria or somewhere nearby.

Then he asked which day I could take off, Friday or Monday. I said Monday and was even more excited.

About a week before he said we were flying and to pack for warm weather. I was totally blown away and curious where we were headed. I couldn't wait to soak up some sun after the dreary summer we'd had. But where were we going?

We headed for the airport and pulled into the parking garage. Before letting a parking attendant steal his surprise he told me where we were going. Coronado Island!

I was really blown away. It was just too sweet. We'd been to San Diego together on what was one of my favorite trips to CA ever (thanks to having him as company). On that trip we'd driven over to Coronado because I had told him that as a kid it was one of the late night adventures my mom and aunts would take the kids on. We'd all pile in the car at midnight on a Saturday and drive over the bridge until the turn around point (so as not to pay the toll). When he and I were in SD in 2009 we'd driven over and gone to dinner and late night beach strolling down there. So it held a special place for me and for us together. In hindsight, maybe that should have been a clue J

Friday evening went so ridiculously smoothly. Made our flight- no prob, got our car- no prob and got into our hotel (one that I have LOVED since HS)- no prob. It was looking to be a seriously great weekend.

Saturday was my birthday. Sadly, it was kind of cold and dreary out. But no matter! We wandered around the beach for a bit, actually walking quite a while down the coast (potential clue #2?). Then, since the weather wasn't clearing, we headed over to Old Town San Diego for touristy stuff. By this time we were just too close to my hometown to not stop by and have some carne asada burrito.

The woman at the taco shop had helped us when we were there last year and asked if we were married yet. We chuckled and said no. The Cap looked calm and cool.

We headed back to our hotel and had planned to go to the pool (it was 65 and cloudy but damn it, we were on vacation!). This is when his cool exterior cracked a bit. He said we should go for a walk out to the beach because he had a "surprise" for me. I did not see a software sized package in his hands.

My heart started to speed up.

We walked out to the terrace of the hotel which overlooks the bridge and the bay. Some of the most wonderful and loving words I've ever heard were spoken to me. Then he asked me to marry him and without a pause I said "yes!" I was totally stunned though. I didn't expect it at all…until the walk for the surprise. I wanted to hear how he'd planned all this and how he had gotten a ring and HOW HE HAD ACTED SO COOL all day! I was in a bit of a daze over the fact that we'd just officially decided to join our lives. I was overjoyed by the fact that we'd just officially decided to join our lives.

I did manage to pull myself together a few minutes later and had a stranger take our pic.

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We then went back to the room and held each other. And goofily stared at each other. Every once in awhile saying "forever!" or "we're going to be married!" He was less goofy than me but he did have the advantage of having known it was coming!

Then we went and rode a rollercoaster by the beach. I called my Mom.

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Seeing as it was still my birthday and there had yet to be cake, we went to Claim Jumper and got our favorite tiny toffee cake. And acted goofy there…taking pictures of us holding hands and such.

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The rest of the weekend was spent being San Diego tourists and hanging out with my sweetie and happily wrapping our heads around the idea that we'd just made a sizable commitment to each other. There were a few mentions of what kind of wedding we'd have and more than a few mentions of what kind of marriage and life we wanted to have.

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It was seriously one of the best weekends ever for me and I feel so loved and special. I am going to hold on to that feeling and work hard to make him feel loved and special every day.