Photos That Inspire – Kinkaku-Ji, Kyoto, Japan

The Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan

Of all the historic sights of Kyoto, Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion) is perhaps the most famous.  So on Phil's first trip to Japan, we couldn't miss it.  Among all major tourist attractions, some border the gaudy and almost cheesy, and with the name "Golden Pavilion", that's what we would expect.  So we were pleasantly surprised to find a tranquil garden with limited visitors.  On top of it, the cherry blossoms were blooming all around Kyoto.  It turned out to be one of the least "touristy" tourist sights we have ever visited. Read More

Photos That Inspire – Church on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia


The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

As soon as I saw the name "Church on Spilled Blood", I thought we must visit this church.  I guess I just have an affinity for the dramatic.  Perhaps that's why I am so fascinated with Russia as a country in the first place.  I hope I am not offending anyone by saying this, but throughout its history, Russia has never been dull.  From our experience on this trip, the culture, the people, their unabashed spirit, and even the cuisine, took me by surprise time and time again, and in a good way!

Back home, people asked "why Russia?"  Very few seem to comprehend why we were going.  I can't explain, but I am glad we went.  And I will be glad to go back someday.

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Photos That Inspire – Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Our first trip to Joshua Tree National Park was a really special memory.  In 2003, Mackenzie had just turned nine.  We decided that it was time to introduce her to camping.  Since it was going to be her first camping experience, we thought that we should make it an easy one for her.  So, Joshua Tree was a perfect choice, close to San Diego, well-organized camp ground, flush toilet, and fresh water.  What we didn't expect was the stunning scenery.  I have seen pictures of Joshua Tree countless times, but nothing quite compare to being there.  After a peaceful night sleep, we woke to a cold crisp morning.  Hot chocolates were made and donuts shared.  I took this picture on our way out of the park.  We have been back there many times.  Last year, we took Ender for the first time.  I think we hooked the girls on Joshua Tree! UPDATE (March 26, 2017) We have since travelled to Joshua Tree over a dozen times and have discovered something new every time. If you are planning a trip and need a guide to show you some of the most interesting things to do or see, check out the one published by Scott Moses over at LiveOnceLiveWild. It is very well researched and there are several things in there that we plan to do on our next visit. Read More

Photos That Inspire – Duomo, Florence, Italy


The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is the cathedral church (Duomo) of Florence, Italy

During the heat wave that hit Europe in 2003, Phil and I visited beautiful Florence.  After walking from across the Arno river to the Duomo in 110F heat, it was a huge relief to go into the cool church.  Phil lit and candle, then promptly wanted to go and climb the dome.  But after reading the guide book, we decided to climb the bell tower (Giotto’s Campanile) instead, so we would have a view of the dome.  414 steps later, we were awarded with the breathtaking view of the Florence cityscape, and the dome of Duomo. Read More

Photos That Inspire – The Royal Tombs, Petra, Jordan


Camels Resting in Front of The Royal Tombs at Petra, Jordan
Just hearing the name "Petra" conjures up excitement and feelings of adventure.  Okay, maybe not for everyone, but that certainly was the case for me.  The highlight of our Egypt trip was... actually in Jordan.  Petra, the Rose Red City was every bit what I imagined and more.  I really couldn't put into words the beauty of the place.  I think Phil did a much better job with words in our post of that day Our Final Day: Petra. Read More

Photos That Inspire – Senso-Ji Temple, Tokyo, Japan


A Rainy Day at the Senso-Ji Temple in the Asakusa District, Tokyo, Japan

For some unknown reason, I never visited the Senso-Ji Temple as a kid, during my many trips to Japan.  So, in 2009, on Ender's first trip to Japan, we decided that we would finally visit the Asakusa District in Tokyo.  It was our last day in Tokyo, and unfortunately, it turned out to be a rainy day.  We had thought about staying in the hotel instead and just take it easy.  But there was no way I was going to go through another trip to Japan without seeing Asakusa.  So we went...

The visit turned out to be really fun.  Ender loved walking around in her new umbrella.  The temple was freshly washed by the rain so all the colors seem to be more vivd, even through the mist & haze.  After the temple, we had a wonderful tempura lunch at a nearby restaurant.  Then to the airport we went.  Now I have visited the Senso-Ji Temple!

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The Cheapest Way to Buy Trans-Siberian Train Tickets in China

Walked to the back of the train for this picture

Shortly after our Egypt trip, Phil and I made a decision to go on our dream trip - the Trans-Siberian railroad.  The timing was perfect.  My brother-in-law, Daniel was finishing up his two-year assignment in China.  That meant we would still have a place to stay in Shanghai, and Sophia and her family would be able to join us in Beijing for a few days.  Now the decision was made, I went on to do research.  It surprised me how little information there was on how to buy the Trans-Siberian train tickets for independent travelers.  There were plenty of agencies and sites selling tickets at a premium.  But to get the absolutely cheapest price was not an easy task.  The best resource I found was The Man in Seat Sixty-One. The site has a lot of information.  I do recommend travelers read through the section on the Trans-Siberian.  However, there was no information on how to buy international train tickets in China.  You can't just walk up to a train station and buy the tickets at the counter.  All the information I found seemed to tell me that the only way was to use a travel agency.

I don't remember what was so funny, I just remember laughing hysterically...

Obviously, I was not going to take that for an answer.   Read More

Photos That Inspire – Yungang Grottoes, Datong, China

Yungang Grottoes in Datong, China

Giant Buddha in Yungang Grottoes, Datong, China

Another early arrival at another little station, after another night of restless sleep, we arrived in Datong, China.  Guide books promised us extraordinary relics from an interesting period of the Chinese history.  So bleary-eyed, we piled into a taxi and headed out of the city for an hour drive to the Yungang Grottoes, a Unesco World Heritage Site. Standing at the ticket counter, we were tired, disappointed and down-right grumpy.  The entrance area was obviously newly built to look like they were ancient.  But they were not!  We were no fools!  We stood there and debated if we should pay the exorbitant price to go in.  We finally decided that since we already spent the taxi fare to come out, we should just go in and be done with it. Wowie wow wow!  As soon as we passed the entrance, all four of us loudly gasped oohs and aahs!  The guide books were right!  The Yungang Grottoes site is in itself worth the trip to Datong.  Large grottoes were carved out of the limestone mountain to house giant buddhas 13-15 meters tall.  Like this one in the picture (over 45 feet tall), they used to be brilliantly colored back in 400AD.  Now, only remnants of the colors are left. Read More

Photos That Inspire – Kom Ombo, Egypt

Temple of Kom Ombo, Egypt

Temple Attendant Resting at the Temple of Kom Ombo, Egypt

There is always that one day, during any longer length trip, when your mind set switches from a "tourist" to a "traveler".  Kom Ombo was where it happened for me on our Egypt trip in May, 2009.  We visited the Temple of Kom Ombo early in the morning, before the place was flooded with tourists.  Walking through the temple ground, there was still a hint of humidity from the night. That was when it hit me, I LOVE EGYPT!  I will travel the continents and see the world.  But Egypt will always have a special place in my heart. Read More

Photos That Inspire – Shambala of the Gobi, Sainshand, Mongolia

Shambala of the Gobi, Sainshand, Mongolia

Fabled Shambala of the Gobi Desert, Sainshand, Mongolia

5:20 am on a rainy day in September, we were the only travelers that got off the train at Sainshand, Mongolia.  I never imagined that our visit to the Gobi Desert would be greeted with pouring rain.  Our local guide ran to us in the rain and waved us into a van.  She told us that the rain is considered good luck in the desert... I didn't believe her until the afternoon.  The rain cleared, and we set off to visit the fabled Shambala of the Gobi Desert.  There were still dark clouds in the distance, but the sun was trying to break through.  We hiked through the desolate red landscape and came upon the Shambala.  I am not sure if we were just delirious from exhaustion, but all four of us felt an indescribable energy as we sat on the red sand and rested our eyes.  All I can say is that it felt surreal. Now looking back at this photo.  I am not sure if I captured that energy. Read More