San Francisco, here we come

While we were in CA for vacation we took a trip up to San Francisco to visit with my lovely Brandy, who was there for a library conference. We took BART in and took the cable car to Pier 39. It was the girls’ first cable car experience that they can remember, and they enjoyed it greatly though they didn’t appreciate the line to get on.

I’ve been to SF tons of times, but it took being away for me to realize how much I love the look of the town.

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Two intrepid travelers.DSC03864

Two more!DSC03867

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There was a lovely layer of mist over the Golden Gate.DSC03902

The girls found a friend.DSC03914

The girls are now enamored of wax museums (YAY!) so we made a stop at Madame Tussad’s SF location to compare. DSC03925

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They have feelings about Zuckerberg. (Ok, not really, I told them to do this. But it made me laugh.)DSC03937

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They have an exhibit about how they make the wax works (there’s one in the Tokyo version as well) and Neil Patrick Harris is the model for the SF version.
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Posing on Abbey Road, which they totally recognized.DSC03943

Miss Audrey with Miss Audrey.DSC03947

This may be one of my favorite pictures ever. DSC03952

And a special picture for their daddy, looking tough with Steve McQueen. DSC03957

For this one you’re supposed to pose with Elton John.
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There was only one problem.DSC03961

Elton left! DSC03963

We went out to see the sea lions, but this little guy was all alone.
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The weight of all of our expectations tired him out.DSC03976

My sweet Brandy! It was so lovely to spend time with her and enjoy San Francisco!DSC03981

Heard Wildlife Sanctuary

I just created a new category for this blog! Now there’s a check box for Texas posts. How exciting!

When we were in McKinney to find our house, we took a day and went to Heard Wildlife Sanctuary. We hiked around for about an hour and didn’t see a 1/4 of it, and we didn’t go into the science museum either- I think repeat visits will be necessary. It’s a gorgeous place, we all loved it.

There’s a butterfly enclosure with lots of variety. There are few things I like better than getting a good picture of a butterfly.

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The hike included a bunch of different eco systems, including Texas Blackland Prairie, one of the rarest eco systems in North America.DSC03754

There was also marsh.DSC03756

And lots of wildlife!DSC03757

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The swamp might have been my favorite.DSC03762

This flower looks like electricity.DSC03763Here’s to many more adventures at Heard!

Christmas Eve at the Tokyo Skytree

We spent Christmas Eve day at the Tokyo Skytree because the girls wanted to show B the Christmas market set up at the base that reminded them of the Amsterdam Christmas market that we learned about in school. So we went for the market and ended up going up to the top of the Skytree!

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Decorations around the Tower.

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We found Santa!

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The view from the top.

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Fuji from the top of the Skytree. It looks like some futuristic movie still.

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There’s a Ghibli store at the Skytree with giant Totoro.

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On the way home we stopped for dinner in Ebisu and saw this huge chandelier that’s out for Christmas.

DSC00218It was a wonderful day!

 

Our trip to Nagano

Earlier in the week we took a trip up to Nagano. Nagano is about 150 miles north east of Tokyo, so we took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to get there. It took about an hour and a half and was a lovely ride. Once in Nagano, we went to our hotel, which was within the Zenkoji temple complex. It was incredible. This is where we stayed.

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Our room.

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The girls especially liked the “royal” tissue holder.

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Around Zenkoji temple

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This is a memorial pagoda for deserted graves- ie. deceased who have no more living descendants to care for their graves. This is intended to console their spirits.

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We are not sure which Maks this is referring to, or whether or not the well wisher actually knows him.

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The girls were delighted with the snow. Zoe just wanted to throw snowballs and make snowmen all day. Tiny wanted to throw snowballs and eat snow.

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It’s so hard to say goodbye to snowmen.

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Little kodoma snowman we found.

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Apparently the Heatmeister makes appearances here, only to be scared off by … houses in hats?

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The street our hotel was on.IMG_7373

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There’s a story that a raccoon dog wanted to worship at the temple and dedicate a stone lantern, so it made itself look human and came with a group of people to worship. Through a course of events it got embarrassed and ran away without dedicating the lantern. The chief priest heard about what happened and had a stone lantern built for the raccoon dog, and the lantern is there to this day, on the west side of the main hall. I love this aspect of Japanese culture. The shinto/ animism elements are so fascinating. IMG_7392

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The next day we got up early and caught a bus up into the mountains. After a 40 minute bus ride we hiked for an hour (it takes most people about 40 minutes- Tiny has little legs and the trail was covered in ice and snow) to get to the hot springs where the snow monkeys hang out.

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I was expecting to see some monkeys up on the hillside, or in the hot springs, but these monkeys were out walking around everywhere. It was obvious that we were in their environment, not the other way around. They’d just walk up to you or past you- to the degree that they almost seemed tame, but you knew that they were wild animals. It was crazy.

This one kept walking up to B like he recognized him- we’re wondering if the coat made the monkey think he worked there and might give him food. It was seriously disconcerting how close he got.

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You can see in this picture how close people could get to the hot springs. When the monkeys wanted to get out, if there were people in the way, they would just push past them, and either you moved or ended up smelling like wet monkey.IMG_7469

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It was so incredibly beautiful.

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Disney Sea

There are a million (ok, 75) pictures here, so let’s just jump in.

The monorail.IMG_3102

The entry way to Disney Sea.IMG_3105 IMG_3106

The line area of Toy Story Mania (aka, Shooting Targets, aka, the girls’ favorite ride.) in the American Waterfront area. This area also has Tower of Tower and Turtle Talk, neither of which we did- the first because the girls and terror don’t get along, and the second because it’s all in Japanese.IMG_3108 IMG_3116 IMG_3117 IMG_3119

The Mediterranean Harbor. It really is this gorgeous. The Venetian gondolas are here.IMG_3125

Fortress Exploration (More detail to come later in the post.)
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My favorite part of the park- Mysterious Island. IMG_3146

Entrance to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.IMG_3148 IMG_3157

I don’t have pictures of Journey to the Center of the Earth, but it is now my favorite ride as far as visuals go. It is just absolutely gorgeous.  If you go to Disney Sea, I recommend heading to Journey very first thing, while everyone else is in line for Toy Story Mania. The line is really short first thing, and then gets absolutely insane later in the day. The line area is really well designed, with lots of really cool things to look at.  IMG_3159

Mermaid LagoonIMG_3160

No puffing.IMG_3161IMG_3165 IMG_3166

Look at that detail!IMG_3168

Mermaid Lagoon is the equivalent of Radiator Springs at CA Adventure- a whole indoor replica of Ariel’s world. These pictures don’t do it justice, but taking pictures in this lighting was difficult. IMG_3172

This area has the rides Jumping Jellyfish, Blowfish Balloon Race, The Whirlpool (which Z thinks should be called The Seacups) , as well as Ariel’s Playground, which, as you might guess, is an Ariel themed play area. It’s really pretty and the girls had a great time in there.IMG_3182 IMG_3187

There are two other rides, Flounder’s Flying Fish Coaster (the girls LOVED it) and Scuttle’s Scooters which we didn’t get around to. IMG_3188

The popcorn/snack carts around Mermaid Lagoon were really well designed. IMG_3222 IMG_3223

 
Entrance to Arabian Coast IMG_3224 IMG_3225

Lost River Delta, which has the Indiana Jones ride (which we skipped- too bumpy for Z and Tiny’s not tall enough.)IMG_3226 IMG_3230

More from the Arabian CoastIMG_3231

Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage is a gorgeous little ride. You ride in boats like It’s a Small World and go through Sinbad’s journeys. The design and detail is just beautiful.
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Jasmine’s Flying CarpetsIMG_3312 IMG_3315

The view from the carpetsIMG_3317 IMG_3330 IMG_3333
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A show with Mickey, Minnie, the Duffy bears, and a magician.IMG_3339

Raging Spirits, the upside down roller coaster. Z likes this one.IMG_3342

The view from DisneySea Transit Steamer Line, which functions as the train at the park.IMG_3346

TURKEY LEGS!IMG_3357 IMG_3358

More design around Mysterious Island. I could stay here ALL DAY.IMG_3366 IMG_3368 IMG_3369IMG_3370

Fortress Exploration. This area is SO COOL. It’s set up like a circa Columbus/Magellan era fortress and galleon, complete with hands on scientific innovations of the time.IMG_3380 IMG_3384 IMG_3387 IMG_3391

This planetarium room was amazing, and impossible to capture in a picture. There are cranks you can turn to make each of the planets rotate around the sun- it’s really so cool.IMG_3395

A boat game.IMG_3415 IMG_3427 IMG_3429

Port Discovery. We didn’t ride anything here- Aquatopia (a water “car” ride) was closed, and Stormrider is one of those 3D simulator things that makes me feel sick- but it was so cool looking. It looked like how I remember Tomorrowland looking when I was little. I don’t know if it ever actually looked like this, but it’s what it looks like in my memory.IMG_3435 IMG_3439 IMG_3441 IMG_3444 IMG_3456

Caravan CarouselIMG_3466 IMG_3468 IMG_3469 IMG_3474 IMG_3479

Genie fountain. I love it.IMG_3492 IMG_3494

The carousel from the outside.IMG_3497

Um, what?IMG_3514

New family portrait?IMG_3545

 

 

Characters at Tokyo Disney Parks

One of the fun things about our Disney trip this time is that we saw a bunch of costumed characters that I’ve never seen at CA Disney. When we went last time, we barely saw any costumed characters, but that probably had to do with the rainy freezingness of it all.

 

I have seen Mary Poppins and Bert at CA Disney, but these were adorable.

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Cinderella’s Fairy godmother with a kind of creepy mask.

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The whole cast of Pinocchio.

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Jack Sparrow- who did a great job with the voice and the walk.
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Mr. and Mrs. Incredible.IMG_3433 IMG_3434 IMG_3438

Jasmine.
IMG_3503Stichi and Angel.

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Jafar.IMG_3507

Agrabah Daisy. IMG_3512

Mexican Donald.IMG_3519

The Sheriff of Nottingham. The girls were not remotely interested in having their pictures taken with any of the characters, except for the Sheriff and Robin Hood. They were SO excited to see these two.IMG_3553

Especially when Robin took off running with themIMG_3560 IMG_3565

over to an open area so that he could do a little dance with them. I’m completely serious. It included putting their hands out IMG_3584

and spinning.IMG_3589

Robin Hood wins the honorary Eeyore award for best costumed character this time around.IMG_3604

Esmeralda. Speaking of whom, did you know that there’s a Hunchback of Notre Dame 2?  I don’t even know how that’s possible.IMG_3629

This isn’t a very good picture, but Wendy and Peter Pan are there in the back. Captain Hook and Smee were also there (but not in the picture). I’ve seen Hook and Pan at CA Disneyland, but never Smee and Wendy.IMG_3631

Cinderella’s Castle at Tokyo Disneyland

I told you it got it’s own post. I adore Tokyo Disneyland, I find it utterly magical, and I think a lot of the reason is the ubiquitousness of Cinderella’s castle. I’m fairly certain you can see at least part of it from 90% of the park. Just seeing it peeking out above other rides makes me happy.

It’s probably Disney sacrilege of some kind, but I think this castle is prettier than the one in CA.

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This Cinderella’s castle doesn’t have a walkway through it like CA Disneyland’s, because it has an attraction inside. You take an elevator upstairs to walk through parts of the castle, where there are painted moments from the movie, as well as art installations in different mediums that portray different parts of the story. IMG_3775 IMG_3776 IMG_3777 IMG_3778 IMG_3779 IMG_3784 IMG_3786

There’s also a room where you can “try on” the glass slipper and sit on Cinderella’s throne. The girls had fun with that.  IMG_3793 IMG_3804 IMG_3817 IMG_3820

Zoe started out as a benevolent ruler,IMG_3823

but turned pretty quickly.
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And Tiny just started right off calling for people’s heads. With the little ears she looks like a mini Malificent.IMG_3839
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Tokyo Disneyland 2014

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Last week we went to Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea for 2 days. It was a fantastic trip. Last time we went, it was the middle of winter, freezing, raining, and the park was packed. We had a good time, but it was not ideal. This time was the opposite (except the good time part), the weather was gorgeous, the park was fairly empty, and we had an incredible time. Wait times were short; the longest wait we had was 1/2 hr for Dumbo.

I took a million and a half pictures, and have tried to cull them down to things that are interesting/unique about the two parks. And that feature my children, because their grandparents want to see them. This is the first of a number of posts, so if there’s not something here that you want to see, give it time. 🙂 And if there’s something you REALLY want to see/know about, just ask in the comments.IMG_2241

 

Little Miss is just a little bit excited.

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The view from the monorail.

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I unabashedly love It’s A Small World. The version here is similar to CA Disneyland, but the Japan themed section is larger and they haven’t added in any of the Disney characters.IMG_3640

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Waiting in line for the Grand Circuit Raceway, which is the equivalent of Autopia. The girls LOVE it.

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And this time Tiny drove by herself, without the meltdown of her last attempt at driving. ( Which consisted of hysterical screaming and crying and yelling, “I AM NOT A GOOD DRIVER!!!” It was so sad and so funny.) She did a great job and was very proud of herself.

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The two girls in this car were dressed identically, down to their sullen expressions. They were so too cool to be there. I wish I had been able to get a better picture.IMG_3724

 

A hidden Mickey!IMG_3765

 

Zoe went on Gadget’s Go Coaster with B while Tiny and I hung out in ToonTown. (It’s her town!)IMG_2465

 

Driving Donald’s boat house.IMG_2467

 

She figured out which button made the whistle blow and was so pleased with herself.
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The Winnie the Pooh Ride (Pooh’s Hunny Hunt) is one of our favorite rides. It’s really hard to take pictures in, so you’ll have to trust me that it’s awesome. As you wait in line, you walk through huge pages from the book.IMG_2654

 

Since it was Easter recently, the theme at Disneyland right now is all about Easter. (More on that in another post.) This was part of the the parade:IMG_2723IMG_2713

 

Carrot girls and bunny boys:IMG_2703

Bunny dancers:

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Bunny majorettes:
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With their bunny tails:IMG_2737Popcorn is huge at both Disney parks. You can get a popcorn bucket that has a strap (I’ll post pictures in another post) and get refills all day. There’s regular salted popcorn, caramel popcorn, curry popcorn, as well as other flavors:

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B took the girls on the Tom Sawyer Island Rafts across to Tom Sawyer Island while I went to the Haunted Mansion. It’s very similar to Haunted Mansion at CA Disneyland, except physically darker. And in Japanese. We got paused right at the ghost dancing/birthday party section- I was very happy.

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B took the girls on Alice’s Tea Party (otherwise known as the Teacups). Thank goodness he likes that ride, because the girls love it (Tiny tried it for the first time this trip and is in love) and it makes me so sick.

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One of the rides that we haven’t seen at other Disneys (it very well could be at CA Adventure- I just checked, and it’s a different ride) is the Monsters Inc Hide and Seek (Z thinks it should be hide and eek, and I very much agree.) The design is gorgeous, you enter the Monsters Inc offices and go past all kinds of cool Monsters Inc appropriate posters and things. The ride consists of going through different monsters scenarios and shining your flashlight on monsters as they pop up. There’s no scoring, it’s just a fun little game.

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We had dinner at the Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall, just for me.

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The inside is incredibly gorgeous.IMG_2829

 

Pretending to be guards.
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Making her mouth into a heart.IMG_2839More interior decoration.
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The food was really, and I mean really, good. I had swordfish, B had steak, the girls had rotisserie chicken and rice- and actually ate it. They loved it, in fact. And the desserts were SO good. So good. IMG_2855

 

Other rides we went on: We visited the Tiki Room, which has less performing by the birds and the tikis and more mischief by Stichi (Stitch). We went on the Castle Carousel and the Mark Twain Riverboat. B went on Star Tours and got to see a segment he’s never seen before, and he and Z went on Space Mountain. She reports that it’s faster and crazier than Space Mountain in CA. We also went on the Space Jets (similar to Astro Orbiter).

Rides we did not go on: Pirates of the Caribbean was closed for repairs, and we decided not to go on the Jungle Cruise. We also didn’t go on Big Thunder Mountain because it was overrun by high school students (the line was SO long), and it would have taken serious cajoling to get the girls on it. We didn’t go on Splash Mountain because my girls are irrationally opposed to it. We skipped the Peter Pan, Snow White, and Pinnochio rides because the lines were INSANE. (Seriously, the majority of the people there either were adult couples or people with tiny kids. And all of those with tiny kids were in line for those 3 rides and Dumbo.) I think Roger Rabbit was closed- I don’t even remember seeing it.  We skipped Buzz’s Astro Blasters because the girls hate it.

We also went through Cinderella’s Castle, but that gets its own post. So you’ll have to wait.

We stayed at the park until about 7:45, then headed to our hotel (which also gets its own post). The girls watched fireworks out the window of the monorail as we went.

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