The Red Beach

In an effort to see more of China, I went on a trip with a group here in Dalian called LocalRen, who often organize trips for foreigners just for that purpose. This was my first trip with them, but I’ll definitely go on more in the future. The itinerary was a bit crazy though: a four-hour bus ride there (with no in-board bathrooms and only one break), four hours allowed at Red Beach for sightseeing, then another four-hour bus ride home. ~12 hours total with most of it on a bus with no bathroom? Yea…. well, it was a lot of fun anyway!

Naturally the foreigners bring the speakers, music, dancing and booze, and then become a larger spectacle for the Chinese tourists than the Red Beach itself, but hey… there’s only so long one can take pictures of the scenery before you get bored killing the four hours we had there. It was a great time with great people!

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Coffee Lovers

My friend Matt invited me to have lunch with him and a friend of his. Said we had a lot in common and had shared some stories about me to him and wanted to put faces to names. I thought sure, that’d be great! Someone else who’s into sustainability, air quality and coding! Little did I know that I was also about to meet (perhaps) the worlds most passionate coffee enthusiast.

I don’t know how it came up during our lunch conversation, but it did somehow. We were talking about our coffee habits and one thing led to another and he’s invited us back to his home a short walk away from this hole-in-the-wall restaurant that are so common in China. They, more often than not, happen to have some of the best Chinese food in the world. 

Just to clarify here, I considered myself to be a coffee connoisseur of a sort. I like to buy my coffee from a local roaster here in Dalian (Brian of Legacy Coffee), carefully selecting from his offerings of beans from Africa and South America and so on. Then I grind my coffee just like your average coffee drinker, and most times I’ll grind enough for a few days’ worth of coffee. Then I’ll pour a few scoops into my French press, pour in boiling water, wait about 7 minutes, then drink it black. 

My small-batch French press for the office
My favorite roast from my awesome coffee supplier

So we go over to his place, he pulls out a couple extra chairs and begins preparing the coffee. Little did I know, my new friend had started making this cup of coffee perhaps as early as one week ago when he roasted his 42nd batch of beans! Now, my new friend has a bit of a background that lends to his current taste for coffee, which happens to be of the espresso genre. Originally from the southern U.S. but having lived abroad for decades in places like the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, or in Spain or most recently China for a spell of years, he has developed his taste for coffee in a very interesting way that manifests itself in distinct ways, all of which I can’t claim to have picked up. 

Before doing anything else, he pulls out a precision scale, places a cup on it, tares it, and measures out the exact amount of water, then pours it into a relatively small, char-blackened container smaller than your two fists. He continues by measuring out 18 grams of dark, oily coffee beans which just so happen to come from the Yunnan province of China. A place that has gotten the attention of such names as Nestle and even Starbucks for coffee exploitation because of the currently under appreciated yet high quality of their beans. 

Once he had measured out the beans, he poured them into the container of a small rickety hand mill with a crank on the top whose handle had been inverted and wooden box base removed to instead be sitting on top of a modified pvc pipe fitting and held in place by his hand. After grinding some, he stops for a moment and indicates a box sitting next to me. He explains how this grinder is supposedly one of the best hand mill coffee grinders available on the market, but that his old grinder makes a better cup of coffee, so he doesn’t use it. 

After grinding all the coffee he takes out a small wire-mesh strainer and begins working the coffee grounds through it with the backside of a spoon, weeding out grains that are too large and pouring them back into the grinder for a second pass. He also suspects grating the coffee through the strain to have some additional affect this has on the quality of the coffee, but is only speculative. After sifting and grinding a couple of more times, he was left with only a small amount of coffee that wouldn’t get any smaller no matter how many times it was passed through the grinder.

He then began to systematically, almost ritualistically pack the coffee grounds into a circular container, one scoop at a time, tamping down all around the rim before finally tamping down the middle and adding another scoop. He did this one ata time until the container was full and all the coffee grounds had been used. He then sat the container into the top of the water pot, and screwed on the top part, which resembled a kettle. If you looked inside it, you would see an up spout through which the brewed coffee percolates. He places this on the stove.

In the meantime he prepares the coffee cups, which were two vase-shaped glass shot glasses essentially, and then a porcelain shot glass. Him and Matt use their regular glasses, and I got the shot glass. Matt’s glass was clean and clear, our friend’s was tinted brown. He doesn’t like to wash his. They take theirs with some sugar substitute derived from birch bark. 

He then pours out an opaque, dark-brown colored coffee into our respective cups. The smell is delightfully rich and there’s a glossy sheen on top from the oils. The first couple of sips adjust my palate to the bitterness of the coffee that I love, but I immediately notice the smooth mouthfeel and lingering aftertaste. Eventually, my tongue begins to distinuigsh the richness and depth of the flavor. I’m not adept enough to tell you exactly what it was that I was tasting, but I do know an amazing cup of coffee when I get one and this was definitely that, at least! At most, perhaps the most finely crafted cup of coffee I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking. 

We enjoyed the coffee while talking in chemistry and engineering lingo about the contributions and concentrations of suspended solids and particulate matter in the coffee, and of his experiments where he evaporated the water out of a sample of brewed coffee and compared the mass of what remained to the original mass of the coffee and the remaining mass of the dried coffee grounds used to brew the coffee. 

I witnessed something beautiful today watching this 70-years-young man prepare coffee for me. I said to him that it had been a privilege to try his coffee, and a pleasure to watch someone prepare with such passion. He responded by saying, “It isn’t passion, it’s fire.”

Germany (Days 1, 2, and 3)

Hello all! For those of you not aware, I’m currently traveling through Europe and am in London at the time of this post on Day 16 of the trip. I’ll try to keep my posts brief, but that’ll be difficult since so much is happening every day, but I mostly want to share my pictures with you, so that’s where the focus will be. I hope you enjoy!

Jan 17-Day 1: Bad Kreuznach 

I had about 24 straight hours of travel from Dalian to Frankfurt airport. Surprisingly however, I wasn’t really all that jet lagged! My first stop was in Germany to see friends and family there. First friend on the list was Felix. This was really quite a special reunion for me since it had been so long (4 years) since we’d seen each other, because of how we got along in Japan, and because of how short a time he lived there at the dorm in Japan. So, I trained out to a station near where he worked where he picked me up. He still had to work for a little bit, so I settled at Felix’s university lab/office while he held his lesson, then went to his house after and caught up for a bit. Went shopping for beer, came back, met his girlfriend Francie, then went for dinner at a nice German restaurant to eat schnitzel. It was great! And boy did I sleep well that night. 

Jan 18-Day 2: 


With a beautiful sunrise view from Felix’s house, we enjoyed a slow morning, eating a standard German-style breakfast consisting of crusty bread, deli meats and cheeses, eggs and lots of coffee. Made some plans and eventually settled on my heading south to Stuttgart earlier rather than later so that I could go see my cousins. Before I left we went to Bingen, a small town on the Rhein, which is where Felix lived right after coming back to Germany from Japan (which is where we met), so that I could catch a train south. The picture below shows just a taste of how picturesque the German countryside is. We wandered around town for a bit and stopping off for a very quick pint at the Swolen Heart before very nearly missing my €60 ICE train to Stuttgart!

Arriving in Stuttgart a couple hours later, I transferred to the S-Bahn heading to Ehnigen which is where I was to meet my cousins. This reunion was a bit different, since I barely remember meeting my cousin Leah when I was a kid and had never met her husband Bryan before then. They could barely recognize me with my hat and “reddish” beard, since the most they had ever seen of me was a likeness from when I was 11 years old at a Krausch family reunion. But after we’d identified each other with a “Dan?”, “Leah?” It was all down hill. We all got along really well and had a delightful time getting to know each other! They had plans to take me to a town called Tübigen, where I saw a castle and a neat little German college town. We drove around quite a bit though because they’d never approached the town from the direction we came from that time. But eventually we parked and began finding our way on foot.  

After seeing what we could see, we went back to their home briefly before taking to our feet again to go have dinner at their neighborhood Italian joint, which had some amazing(!) pizza.

Jan 19-Day 3: Mercedes-Benz museum, military bases, Lichtenstein castle, Motorcity. Not much more to say. Bryan and I must’ve spent a few hours at least wandering the vast museum that chronicled not just MB history, but the history of motorized transportation, Germany, and the world as well from a unique perspective. Very fascinating!Next, we picked up Leah from the school on the military base where she teaches before heading to Lichtenstein Castle. Unfortunately, none of us thought to check the hours, and we got there after they’d been closed for about 30 minutes. So we wandered around outside the castle and enjoyed the views.  For dinner we went to a cozy spot next to a place called Motor City! This place had a staggering collection of absolutely gorgeous vehicles for sale. But don’t take my word for it, just look!

And that was it for my time with Bryan and Leah! It was awesome! I’ve promised to come visit them again next time I’m I Europe. They said I can use their place as a hopping point to the rest of Europe, and you can bet I will!

Cheers from London 🙂

Summer Days On The Road

In the summer of 2015, before leaving for China, my elder sister and I embarked on a cross-country road trip – from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and San Francisco and back again over the course of 35 days, making many stops along the way. What follows is a chronicle of our travels, as best as I can recreate it from memory and with some help from my photo library and Untappd app history.

Day 1: June 5, 2015 – Doylestown, PA to Toledo, OH (8 hours, 527 miles)

Went to the Attic and drank with Madison before going to her friend’s old house in the Old West End and testing out my new camera!

(Glass Hopper IPA by Maumee Bay Brewing Company at The Attic on Adams)

Day 2: June 6 – Toledo, OH to Cedar Rapids, IA (7 hours, 478 miles)

Stayed with our good friend Tyler (conveniently located within the void between Ohio and Colorado) for the night and sampled a wonderful medley of amazing beers!

(Hop Sutra by Peace Tree Brewing Company, a Speedway Stout (2013) by AleSmith Brewing Company120 Minute IPA (2013) by Dogfish Head Craft BrewerySága IPA by Summit Brewing Company at Bushwood Sports Bar & Grill)

Day 3: June 7 – Cedar Rapids, IA to Lake McConaughy, NE (9 hours, 603 miles)

Drove a long way this time all the way across Iowa and Nebraska and found a lake to camp next to just next to the border of Colorado. It seemed like a fantastic idea, but we weren’t quite equipped for this sort of camping – no wood, and no stove… not even much food to eat considering. While looking for a place to camp, I drove into a sandy area with some speed, thinking that my momentum would carry us through… I was wrong. We ended up quite stuck for a long time. Meg and I were digging trenches in the sand so that my poor little 2WD Matrix could potentially back its way out using a combination of pushing and feathering the throttle. After much exertion, we eventually made it out. Continuing onwards, a suitable location eventually presented itself and this time, we were careful not to drive in too far. So we hoofed our gear a little ways through the sand to a nice secluded area between the dunes and the lake.

Despite the beautiful location, we didn’t end up sleeping all that well because, in our exhaustion, we were both strangely paranoid about imaginary lake tides! Sleeping on the beach to the gentle sound of waves coming in sounds a lot more pleasant than it actually was. Needless to say, we broke camp pretty early the next morning right around sunrise.

One of the best things about this area ended up being this little local diner next to a cattle auctioning farm (I think) called Kathy’s Kafe. Bottomless coffee and the large American portions of breakfast food that you’d expect from a diner in the middle of nowhere Nebraska. To this day, my sister and I both probably thank that diner for its existence in our moment of need. The smell of horse/cow poop and strange stares aside, that place was great!

 

Day 4: June 8 – Lake McConaughy to Denver and Boulder (3.5 hours, 228 miles)

Short drive this day considering our long drive and poor night’s sleep the previous day. We have many relatives living in Colorado and got to see almost all of them on this trip. The first ones being our Uncle Kevin (our mom’s brother) and our cousin Addison. They live in Denver. We were so exhausted, we took showers and napped almost immediately. Then we decided to head off to Boulder to see an old friend and of course, to go enjoy that amazing mountain city.

(Trilogy IPA by Shine Brewing Company at Shine Restaurant & Gathering Place)

Day 5: June 9 – Denver, CO to Ouray, CO (8 hours, 415 miles)

We opted to take the super-scenic route through the Rockies to our great aunt and uncle’s house in beautiful Ouray (boxcanyonblog.com) instead of taking the interstate the whole way. Complete with detours and stops here and there, it probably took us over 8 hours altogether, but it was worth it!

If I remember correctly, we took Route 70 from Denver until the Carbondale/Aspen exit, where we got off the interstate and drove as if going to Aspen, but veered off to the west at Carbondale towards Somerset, Hotchkiss and eventually Delta. Or, it’s quite possible we went the even-more-scenic route and hopped on route 12 (which doesn’t show up on Google maps until you’re practically all the way zoomed in where an inch equals 2 miles) towards Crested Butte (I remember something about making Crusty Butt jokes the whole time) and then approaching Montrose from the east instead of north. Either way, we finally made it in around dusk. Our family had pizza and IPAs waiting for us! Love those two!

Day 6: June 10 – Ouray

We finally had a full day without sitting in the car once! We rested in Ouray for two nights, waiting for our brother Brad to start his vacation and come meet us in Grand Junction on the 12th. So in the meantime, my sister and I got to relax. I went for a bike ride, got rained on and headed back, and then once the rain had cleared up, we took a hike up to see some falls before resting our weary feet at the local brewery!

(San Juan IPASummer SaisonBox Canyon Brown AleCarson’s Chocolate StoutBluegrass Pale Ale by Ouray BreweryModus Hoperandi by Ska Brewing at Ouray, CO)

Day 7: June 11 – Ouray to Grand Junction, CO to Bryce Canyon, UT (7 hours, 400 miles)

Leaving very early in the morning, even before dawn, we left for Grand Junction to pick up our elder brother from the bus station (side note: apparently the massively obese Greyhound passenger with whom Bradley had to share his row with was not particularly reasonable or considerate with their shared space, so Brad was fairly exhausted upon our meeting with him in Grand Junction considering he’d spent the last 300 miles cramped up on a Greyhound bus). We grabbed breakfast and supplies, and took care of some “emergency  medical” needs before hitting the open road between Colorado and Los Angeles. Oh, and another reason (besides the fact that our brother is awesome) it was really nice to have Brad with us is the fact that he can drive! I forgot to mention, my sister doesn’t drive, so it was essentially just me doing all the driving up to this point. Having another driver on the trip with us was a fantastic (but short-lived) relief.

We got to Bryce Canyon National Park just a bit before dusk and managed to find ourselves a decent camp site in the nearly-full park. We spent some time enjoying the twilight scenery (I managed to catch a DOUBLE-RAINBOW on camera!) before setting up our camp site and making dinner.

Poor Brad forgot his sleeping bag at home and ended up practically freezing in the car all night! Especially after a terrible night on a bus, I didn’t envy him.

(Hop Abomination by Dry Dock Brewing CompanyHop Hunter IPA by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. at Bryce Canyon NP North Campground)

Day 8: June 12 – Bryce Canyon, UT to Grand Canyon, AZ (5.5 hours, 285 miles)

In the morning, Brad promptly bought a new sleeping bag at the store the next morning. Before departing for the Grand Canyon however, we went on a hike down into the canyon. It was a stunningly beautiful hike. A fantastic way to begin the day!

It was nice to have someone from out west with us who had previous experience visiting the Grand Canyon because he suggested we go to the other side of the Canyon instead of the North Rim. This made a pretty big difference! If you look on the map, the North Rim is almost an entire hour off the main highway, whereas if you go around (a route we’d have to take anyway) you can see the Grand Canyon from the south without even going very far out of the way! Plus, we were able to find an amazing place to camp with nobody around for a long ways after we had gotten a good look at the canyon.

This night may arguably have been one of the greatest of the trip. It had been a flawless day with a beautiful drive across some of the most scenic parts of the Western U.S., saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, and found a secluded forest with ample amounts of dead wood to burn where the three of us were able to while the night away in good company by a roaring campfire.

Day 9: June 13, Grand Canyon, AZ to Los Angeles, CA (7 hours, 484 miles)

This day was rough… Driving through the dessert… Thankfully the A.C. in the Blue Pill (a.k.a. my blue Toyota Matrix) was working just fine, so we were able to drink our water without it evaporating before hitting our tongue.

Our destination was LA! My sister had been longing to make it back to California, and we were finally there. And, for the first time this trip, we opted for a hotel (courtesy of our brother) because Brad was also in town to attend the wedding of an old family friend.

Johnny’s American IPA (7%) by Moab Brewery

Day 10: June 14 – Los Angeles & Hermosa Beach

Waking up in LA was pretty great. Being in California was also pretty darn awesome considering all the awesome new beers I now had access to. We took the morning nice and easy, heading to the pool at our leisure and so on. I took a trip to the nearest beer shop I could find, and came back all stocked up on new and exotic, California-exclusive IPAs!

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After a while though, we rallied and headed to a house where many of the wedding crew were gathered to enjoy a nice brunch by the pool. We stayed there for a few hours until it came time for Meg and I to depart and leave Brad to do his own thing.

Meg and I headed back to the hotel for a just a little while, to get showered and such before heading to Hermosa Beach to go exploring and get some dinner! We had a blast, driving the practically empty LA highways after dark. We found a fun boardwalk area to explore. Eventually, we landed at a brewery, which always tends to be the best option if you have nothing else to go on in a new area. Places that care about good beer always care about good food to go along with it! This rule has yet to let me down.

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(Far Out IPA by Bootlegger’s BreweryThe Orange Curtain by Barley Forge Brewing Co., and West Coast Pale Ale by Abigaile Brewery at Abigaile)

Day 11: June 15 – Los Angeles to Morro Bay (4 hours, 230 miles)

The next day began what I had been quite looking forward to – our drive up the California coast on Route 1. We planned to do it in a 2-day stretch, taking it nice and easy, stopping whenever we felt the urge.

That being said, the drive may have been about 230 miles, but it was definitely longer than 4 hours because by the time we were ready to stop, it was quite difficult to locate a viable campsite. Lucky enough to get one of the last available spots, the campsite then had to be set up in the dark by flashlight. Once that was done however, we enjoyed yet another night by the campfire. At some point during our enjoying of the campfire, we witnessed another car pull in quite a bit later. We witnessed someone struggling with their tent, so we went over to help them, empathizing well considering we’d struggled with the same thing not too long before. It turned out to be a mother and her young daughter getting in much later than they’d expected. In the morning they shared some breakfast with us! 🙂

(805 Blonde by Firestone Walker Brewing Company at Summerland Foods & LiquorDBA (Double Barrel Ale) and Union Jack IPA by Firestone Walker Brewing Company at Morro Bay State Park Campground)

Day 12: June 16 – Morro Bay to Mountain View, CA (4.5 hours, 212 miles)

Brad, unfortunately, had to get back to work before too long and had planned to fly out of the San Francisco airport back to Denver on June 17th, so our destination this day was to get in range of the airport for the following morning. Fortunately, I had a friend from CMU living in Mountain View, a town just a little further south from San Francisco than the airport.

This drive turned out to be spectacular, with many breathtaking views out over the Pacific.

We took a surprise detour to a little town called Salinas, where my brother knew exists the National Steinbeck Center – a museum and memorial dedicated to one of my sister’s favorite authors, John Steinbeck, who grew up in that town. So while Meg nerded-out at the Steinbeck Center, Brad and I found ourselves another brewery to chill at! 🙂

After our arrival, there was still some time to kill before heading to our host’s home for the evening, so we navigated our way to the nearest bay access point where Brad and I went sailing while my sister napped in the car.

(IPAPale Ale and Harvest Wheat by Monterey Coast Brewing Co at Monterey Coast Brewing Company, and Surf Black IPA by Surf Brewery)

Day 13: June 17 – Mountain View to San Francisco and Santa Rosa (2 hours, 94 miles)

San Francisco had essentially been our unspoken yet symbolic destination for the road trip. Despite that however, due to many complicating factors (not the least of which being my dread for the return journey and wanting to get it out of the way asap without it lingering over my head), we merely passed through San Francisco without staying for more than half a day, which I eventually came to regret. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my time there, having been able to see some sights and just enjoy the cool temperatures and hilly nature of this city by the sea.

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We even had got to hit two different and amazing breweries in the same day! The first being Southern Pacific Brewing in SF where we met our host from the night before and bought him a beer, and the second being Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa where I was able to fulfill an (adult) life-long goal of mine, which was to try the fabled Pliny the Elder double IPA from Russian River.

The lodging we acquired for this night simply goes to show how well-accustomed we had become to our vagabond lifestyle these last 2 weeks. We found a campsite in the wine country east of Santa Rosa and arrived there after hours finding ourselves a camp site that we ended up occupying free-of-charge, set up our tent and went to sleep, waking up early enough to sneak out unnoticed by anyone. Honestly, we didn’t see anybody at the gates upon entry nor exit, so I don’t feel too bad about it. Plus, it was quite a blessing considering we were on a budget that allowed for not much more than food, beer, and gas…

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(Tricerahops Double IPA by Ninkasi Brewing Company at Southern Pacific BrewingCalifornia Blonde and Alt by Southern Pacific Brewing at Southern Pacific Brewing, then Pliny the Elder by Russian River Brewing Company at Russian River Brewing Company!)

Day 14: June 18 – Santa Rosa to Salt Lake City, UT (10.5 hours, 746 miles)

This leg began our trek back east; it felt like going downhill. With nothing much between NoCal and Colorado (our next semi-long term destination as compensation for leaving Cali so early), we decided to head to Salt Lake City and stay there for a night, even going so far as to splurge for a hotel room! Despite being a long drive, it was a fairly easy one, being practically a straight line for most of the way! There was some cool scenery here as well because of the dried salt beds next to the highway.

It wasn’t until after going out in this city in the early evening that we noticed that SLC was actually pretty cool! I particularly took a liking to it because of its urban infrastructure design (nerding-out, civil engineering style!). Moving around in this city was particularly easy and not entirely car-centric! It was quite a relief. We even found another cool brewery to check out that night! There are actually lots of good breweries in SLC other than the one we found, like Uinta Brewery! The city’s library is also very modern!

(Rye Pale Ale by Red Rock Brewing Co. at Red Rock Brewing Co.)

Day 15: June 19 – Salt Lake City, UT to Golden, CO (7.5 hours, 517 miles)

The next morning, we found a cool local craft bagel shop to grab ourselves some breakfast. This added even more to my fondness for SLC because in my opinion, a good bagel shop is an essential part of any town or city. A part that even Pittsburgh was lacking in…

Enough about bagels however. Our destination today was to get back across the Rockies and make it to our other aunt and uncle’s house in Golden, CO. But before that however, we found another brewery to enjoy a little pit-stop at!

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(Hula Hoppie Session IPA by Palisade Brewing Company at Palisade Brewing CompanyFresh Squeezed IPA by Deschutes Brewery)

Day 16: June 20 – Golden, CO

It just so happened that our aunt and uncle were taking this particular weekend to get away on a trip-for-two, leaving our cousins in the care of a distant relative of ours, our aunt by marriage’s cousin from the UK. So we ended up getting the weekend to relax in the beautiful town of Golden, spending time bonding with our Johnson cousins!

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It was really great! Our uncle, like his brother (our father) likes to keep a good IPA or two on tap. There’s even an amazing brewery within walking distance from their house! Mountain Toad Brewery is really a top notch brewery. The atmosphere, staff and (most importantly) the beer were all phenomenal.

(Sculpin IPA by Ballast Point Brewing & SpiritsParadise HopWhite RanchRyrish Stout, and Throne Taker Imperial Red Ale by Mountain Toad Brewing at Mountain Toad Brewing)

Day 17: June 21 – Golden to Fort Collins, CO (1 hour, 73 miles)

Now back in Colorado on the eastern slopes of the Rockies, we were only a short distance away from Fort Collins, where our brother lives, so we headed up there next. After a nap, we all went out to a lake together to jump off cliffs and swim while enjoying the sunset before proceeding to a local watering hole for food and drinks.

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(Breck IPA by Breckenridge Brewery at The MainLine)

Day 18: June 22 – Fort Collins to Cedar Rapids, IA (11 hours, 777 miles)

It was a brief stop however, and we were on our way again in the morning for what turned out to be our longest haul yet! Instead of camping somewhere along the way, we decided to push all the way out to Cedar Rapids, IA! Almost 800 miles in a day was not easy, but it was rewarding! We got a chance to relax with our friend Tyler again for four nights! We ended up having a lot of fun here!

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Day 19: June 23 – Cedar Rapids, IA

(Pliny the Elder by Russian River Brewing CompanyApex™ by Bear Republic Brewing Co.Hop Hunter IPA by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. at Shaver ParkAmerican IPA (AIPA) by Schlafly – The Saint Louis Brewery at Shaver Disc Course)

Day 20: June 24 – Cedar Rapids, IA

(30th Street Pale Ale by Green Flash Brewing CompanyStone Enjoy By 07.04.15 IPA by Stone Brewing, and Mach 10™ by Bear Republic Brewing Co.)

Day 21: June 25 – Cedar Rapids to Toledo, OH (7 hours, 478 miles)

On our way out west, we stopped in Toledo at our grandparent’s house while they were away on vacation, but this time we were able to catch them! They prepared a nice dinner on the grill for their travel-worn grandkids! 🙂

 

Day 22: June 26 – Toledo, OH to Pittsburgh, PA (3.5 hours, 232 miles)

The sister of one of my good friends was getting married on the 27th in a small city in eastern Ohio. So my sister and I headed for Pittsburgh where I went to grad school and where my former roommate was still occupying the apartment I lived in and we were welcome to stay there for a few nights!

(Two Hearted Ale by Bell’s Brewery at Union Grill)

Day 23: June 27 – Pittsburgh to Youngstown, PA (1 hour, 66 miles)

So while my sister chilled in Pittsburgh, I went to Youngstown for TC’s wedding!

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In the meantime, I think my sister explored Pittsburgh!

(Grapefruit Sculpin by Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits and Guinness Draught by Guinness at Red Roof)

Day 24: June 28 – Youngstown to Pittsburgh (1 hour, 66 miles)

The next day, I returned to Pittsburgh to enjoy some of my old city’s great food and beer offerings along with my sis for a couple days.

(The Orange Curtain by Barley Forge Brewing Co.Keri Kelli/Kyle Hollingsworth/Stone Collective Distortion IPA by Stone Brewing at La Palapa)

Day 25: June 29 – Pittsburgh

After chilling another day in Pittsburgh we realized we were at a crux point in our journey; do we head home after merely 25 days on the road? Or do we keep it going and head back out west to spend our 4th of July in Chicago with our friend Tyler and another friend of mine from CMU who was doing a summer internship there? You guessed it! We went back out west!

The morning before we left, we got to get brunch at one of my favorite spots with some of my CMU buddies. At this point we were running just a smidgeon low on money, so we broke into our emergency stash of cash, which was in the form of a cash lay that my great aunt and uncle made for me out of $1 bills! (Yes, we did feel badly for the server having both been one ourselves… :/ )

Ivan The Terrible by Big Sky Brewing Company

Day 26: June 30 – Pittsburgh to Toledo (3.5 hours, 232 miles)

With some time to kill, we stopped off in Toledo for a few days to enjoy some more time with our grandparents, as well as visit a couple good friends. One was Madison, who had lived right across the river from my grandparents the whole time I went to school there in Toledo.

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Day 27: July 1 – Toledo

The other was Dejan, who by now has successfully succeeded me as the foreign research student at Kagawa University from Toledo. Since this road trip, I’ve seen him on many different occasions in Japan. On this day however, my sister spent the day back at the grandparent’s house relaxing. It was one of the rare moments during this road trip when we weren’t close enough to holler at each other, let alone poke each other.

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Day 28: July 2 – Toledo to Chicago (4 hours, 245 miles)

Timing it so that we had enough time to relax and see the sights, as well as see and spend time with friends, we arrived in Chicago a couple days before the Fourth and met up with my friend from CMU, Lamyae! Unfortunately we timed our arrival in Chicago poorly and landed there right around rush hour. Our destination, Lamyae’s apartment, was up north of Chicago in Evanston, and we were coming from the south. But we eventually made it, all the while enjoying the nice scenery of the city while driving along Lake Michigan.

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We didn’t linger for long since we were hungry and ready to see Chicago, so we deposited our bags, and headed out for the train downtown. Lamyae led us to Clark St., an area with lots of restaurants and bars. After much deliberation, we ended up going with a new-age American food joint with small, unique, exquisite-looking dishes. We were not disappointed!

(Snaggletooth Bandana by Solemn Oath Brewery at Bottlefork)

Day 29: July 3 – Chicago

The next day was great! We went to Northeastern University to take advantage of their sailing center and rented a catamaran! Afterward, we went to visit the Baha’i Temple of Worship, one of only 7 throughout the world, in Wilmette, a town just north of Evanston. After a brief stop back at the apartment, we went out again and found ourselves a brewery called Smylie Brothers Brewing. Enjoyed the beautiful weather outside on their deck while enjoying some fine beer offerings. Finally, we ventured south to where we would once again meet up with our friend Tyler who was in Chicago for the Fourth as well! We enjoyed an awesome pre-Fourth celebration complete with sausages, other grillables, amazing craft beer, fireworks, charades and wheelbarrow races!

(Double Fist by Revolution Brewing CompanyPurple Line and Smylie IPA by Smylie Brothers Brewing Company at Smylie Brothers Brewing Co.Pompeii by Toppling Goliath Brewing5 Grass Hoppy Ale by 5 Rabbit CerveceríaZombie Dust by 3 Floyds Brewing Company1492 by Toppling Goliath Brewing, and The Cherry Bohemian by Exile Brewing Company)

Day 30: July 4 – Chicago, IL

Our actual Fourth turned out to be another fantastic day. After waking up in our tent that was set up in the back yard where, during the previous night, wheelbarrow races had been held, we rallied for brunch and bloody marry’s at a local strip in this particular Chicago neighborhood. It was then that we made our plans for the day’s festivities. We made the decision to go to the North Avenue Beach where we would have a clear view of the fireworks from across the bay. It was also the perfect place to spend a day relaxing. We had lunch supplies, snacks, a frisbee, bathing suits, music, and a place right next to the water so that whenever we got hot, we could take a few steps and dive off the pier!

We stayed there for probably close to 8 hours! The fireworks were, unfortunately, lackluster, but everything else that day had been great. We had lots of fun and were in good company.

(Anchor IPA by Anchor Brewing Company and Modelo Especial by Grupo Modelo S.A. de C.V.at North Avenue Beach)

Day 31: July 5 – Chicago to Toledo, OH ( 4 hours, 245 miles)

Back eastward again; the final homeward bound stretch. Since we had simply passed through the last couple of times in Toledo, this time we decided to hang out for a few days. My photo library, as well as my Untappd check-in’s don’t tell much of a story over these few days, so it’s safe to assume we used the time to relax and enjoy our grandparent’s company and hospitality.

Day 32: July 6 – Toledo

One of the only pieces of evidence from these few days of what transpired is this picture here,

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Which indicates we got to hang out with Madi again! 🙂

Day 33: July 7 – Toledo

Day 34: July 8 -Toledo

On the last day before we left toledo, our grandparents took us to a nice little restaurant by the Maumee River called LaRoe’s. It was a nice sendoff. It was sad to leave since it is so peaceful there, but it was time to head another step closer to home.

(Firefly Rye by Great Black Swamp Brewing Co at LaRoe’s)

Day 35: July 9 – Toledo to Pittsburgh (3.5 hours, 232 miles)

One last stop in Pittsburgh. We were only there for one night, so we made the most out of it, in honor of completing our road trip successfully! Thankfully, our friend Mark was around to help us celebrate properly.

(Big Hop IPA by East End Brewing Company at Industry Public HouseD’Tango Unchained by Weyerbacher Brewing Company at BierportTurtle Power by Evil Genius Beer CompanySlow Ride by New Belgium Brewing Company)

Day 36: July 10 – Pittsburgh to Philadelphia (5 hours, 304 miles)

And that was it! 35 days on the road, thousands of miles, hundreds of photos, and countless fond memories.

Here are some fun statistics about our trip:

Total miles traveled: 8,169

Total hours spent driving: 128 (that’s over 5 whole days – almost 15% of the entire trip was spent with our butts in those seats!)

Number of different states passed through: 12

Breweries Visited:

  1. Ouray Brewery
  2. Abigaile Brewery
  3. Monterey Coast Brewing Company
  4. Southern Pacific Brewing
  5. Russian River Brewing Company
  6. Red Rock Brewing Co.
  7. Palisade Brewing Company
  8. Mountain Toad Brewing
  9. Smylie Brothers Brewing Co.

 

Finally, I would like to dedicate this post to my amazing siblings, MJ and Bradley. I love you guys. The inspiration to do this post was my sister’s birthday, so I hope she likes it!

Japanese Inns, Monkeys and Bamboo Forests

Arashiyama, a region of Kyoto that, after the trip there which I am about to describe, has easily become my favorite area of Kyoto! Aside from being set amongst a beautiful landscape, 


Arashiyama has many other things going for it as well. For example, it is very easily accessible considering it has not one, but two train stations in town; a JR station and a Randen station. Depending on where you’re coming from or going to, both are very useful and convenient. Furthermore, there is a fantastic, quaint little town strip going through Arashiyama that has lots of shops for souvenirs, food, kimono/yukata rental, etc… Then there’re the sightseeing opportunities! There are an abundance of beautiful temples and shrines in this region of Kyoto, many of which have substantial cultural and historical significance. Then of course, there are the bamboo forests of Arashiyama, which are perhaps the region’s most famous landmark. And finally, after hiking a small mountain you will find yourself in the company of the only monkey species native to Japan, the Macaque. 

Despite all of these amazing opportunities being in such close proximity and allowing us to see so much in so little time, the highlight of Arashiyama for us was where we lodged; the Arashiyama Benkei Ryokan, a traditional Japanese-style inn. This takes us to where my previous post left off. After killing time in town, we were finally allowed to check in at 4pm. Once we did, we experienced nothing but serene relaxation until 11am the next day. Once we had been shown our room and allowed a few minutes to settle, a hostess came in to prepare some tea for us and asked us when we would like to have dinner. We said 7:30, and then proceeded to enjoy the hot springs. The ryokan has their own separated public baths, but our room also had a private open-air bath with views out to the surrounding mountains. 


After a few very enjoyable and relaxing hours we were called upon to go to the dining room for our meal, which was to be seven courses of exquisitely prepared Japanese cuisine of all sorts…


The next morning, we enjoyed our breakfast fairly early in order to check out and go see the sights of Arashiyama that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. We were able to leave our heavy bags there fortunately. As we left, one of the hostesses offered to take our picture for us out front of the ryokan, 


and then as we left, she maintained a very low bow until we were completely out of sight. Our first stop was the famous Tenryu-ji temple. In depth information about this historic temple can be found HERE. The short story is that this temple was the first of the five major Zen Buddhist temples to be established in Kyoto, dating back to the year 1345. This site has, unfortunately, been devastated by major fires no less than eight times! However, each time rehabilitation efforts have been made to great success. It stands today as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty, a designation made by the Japanese government, as well as a UNESCO-registered World Heritage Site.


From here, we moved on to the bamboo forest! Unfortunately crowded, making it much less serene than it ought to have been, we didn’t linger here. 


Near the end of the walking path however, there was a pay-to-enter garden that had been designed and built by a famous Japanese silent film actor. We heard good things from a person walking out, mentioning in particular a lack of crowds as well as a complimentary cup of mattcha and a Japanese sweet. So we decided to check it out. The garden had particularly beautiful moss gardens, as well as beautifully built paths that wound up a short mountain to reveal breathtaking scenery. 


At this point we were all starting to get a bit fatigued. Of course, we enjoyed the tea and sweets offered at the garden, but then we made our way back across town towards the ryokan because in order to make it to the monkeys we had to backtrack a bit. That allowed us to hit up that nice coffee shop though which provided us with a nice pick-me-up. We were to need it too, because in order to reach the monkey’s lair we would have to hike up a not-so-shallow mountain. 


When we arrived, we were happy to see that the monkeys were, in fact, very free. It seemed to us that they all simply chose to hang out around there. The monkeys were all roaming around cage-free, even hanging out on top of buildings for shade occasionally!


They were incredibly cute, but having felt like we were invading their territory, we didn’t linger here either, so we began our hike back down after about 15 minutes. After that, we made our way back to the ryokan for a final time before beginning our journey back to Osaka. Mom’s time in Japan was rapidly drawing to a close, with her flight leaving the next day from Kansai International. A few hours later and multiple train transfers later, we had settled into our hotel in Shin-Osaka and decided to unceremoniously commemorate mom’s last night in Japan at an Indian restaurant! 


So that was Kyoto! Hope you enjoyed reading! 

Temples, Shrines and Great Food In Kyoto

Since my last post, we’ve done so much and traveled so far I hardly know where to begin! I suppose, a brief update as to our situation as I write the beginning of this post. Our mother has returned to the U.S. and it is now just my sister and I. We just spent the night in a mountaintop Zen Buddhist Temple south of Osaka and are now in transit to Tokushima Prefecture back on the island of Shikoku. 

Now, the three of us had three nights in Kyoto, two of which were spent over on the eastern side of Kyoto; just north of Yasaka Shrine but on the opposite side of the Kamo River. The highlight of that area was by far the food and nightlife! We had quite the culinary adventure, from gyoza (Japanese-style dumplings) to ramen, okonomiyaki to beef tail and tempura. I think we are all in agreement though when it comes to which was our favorite…


This restaurant, where we were fortunate to get into without too long of a wait, had the winning combination of atmosphere, service, spectacle, and delicious food at good prices. The name is Chaochao; it has a small dining area (about 4 tables) and about 6 bar spots, and maintains a healthy queue out front of people very willing to wait. Fortunately, they treat their queue very well, passing out fans and serving beverages. We happened to be the first ones to start the line, and waited for less than 1 beer’s worth of time. They serve all the standard Japanese dumpling flavors, but also offer some specialty flavors like okonomiyaki, chili, and curry! 

After eating what we had only intended to be an appetizer, (but what had ended up simply being our dinner!) we walked around for a bit and found a few other notable spots for future visitation. We spent some time near the river before entering a cool speakeasy named Glamour. 


At Glamour we enjoyed a cool atmosphere and friendly service before heading back to our hotel for some much needed sleep. The next day it rained all through the night and morning until finally, around 1:00 it lighted up and stopped, leaving us with some cool weather for walking about and sightseeing after having ramen for lunch. 


Our sightseeing goals were Yasaka Shrine and Kiyomizu Temple. 


After walking such a long distance, we were all quite eager to get back to the hotel as quickly as possible, so once we made it back to a main road we quickly hailed a taxi. We spent a the rest of the evening relaxing in the room until we finally got hungry enough to venture out again to eat dinner around 9:00 pm. For one of mom’s final meals in Japan, we opted for an izakaya. 


Afterwards, we returned to Glamour because we had such an enjoyable time there the first time. 


Not wanting to make it a long night because we’d be traveling across the city the next day towards Arashiyama, we had started heading back towards the hotel when someone called out to us in English, which intrigued my sister and mother because they’d been mostly relying on me for communication, so when we encountered some foreigners with whom they could communicate freely, they were happy to engage. It turned out to be a fruitful encounter because we got to meet a really nice and diverse group of people. 


The morning was slow. Not needing to rush considering the check-in time at our next stop, the Arashiyama Benkei Ryokan, wasn’t until 4:00 pm, we took our time packing up and finally making our way to the subway stop a short walk away. We took the subway a couple stops west in order to transfer to the local Randen train line which ends in Arashiyama.  


A short walk through town, we come to the river you see above and Crossing Moon Bridge 渡月橋. Then after turning right and walking along the river for another short distance, we pass a nice looking coffee hut just before arriving at our ryokan.



We arrived a few hours before we could actually check in, so we went for a stroll through town, looking for A quiet place to relax and enjoy some tea/coffee, and we found exactly what we were looking for. 


The deserts, coffee and tea were all exquisite. We left there feeling great and ready to go enjoy our ryokan. I, having stayed at Arashiyama Benkei once before, knew what was coming, but my mom and sister had no idea… and I was super excited to see their reactions to, what I assume to be, the quintessential Japanese hospitality experience. Keep an eye out for my next post, which will cover that and more! 

This post took much longer to write than I had wanted, and as such I’m way behind in documenting our travel experience in real-time. In fact, at this very moment I’m sitting in gazebo at our bungalow in Puerto Princessa, Philippines, gearing up to ride a motorcycle with my sister up to El Nido. Hopefully I’ll be able to fill you all in to our experiences up to this point sometime soon! 

Be well!

Our Time In Takamatsu…

…was short but sweet. We’re already on a bullet train bound for Kyoto, but over the last couple days we were able to do quite a lot! 

When we got off the bus on Saturday, Mr. Oki was already there waiting to pick us up. We stopped briefly at the house to drop off our things and then went to eat lunch at the most famous udon shop in the city that is already famous for udon; Baka Ichidai Udon! 

Afterwards we went to drop off my mom and sister’s belongings at a Japanese inn named the Makiya Ryokan, which is very conveniently located in between Takamatsu Station, the ferry port, and a local train line station Kotoden Takamatsu-chikko. It offers traditional Japanese-style lodging in a tatami room, which is nice, but from what I heard from my mother and sister, it is a bit old and slightly rundown. However, considering the international art festival, the Setouchi Triennale is currently going on, they were lucky to find a room available even remotely close to downtown Takamatsu, let alone one so perfectly located.  


Once their things were dropped off, we made our way down through the city via the shotengai, the famous covered malls of Takamatsu. There, we ran into a beer festival that happened to be going on, and so grabbed a beer and continued walking. One thing that is fairly common is Asia that is not allowed in the States is that one can openly drink alcohol and even be openly drunk in public without any repercussions under the law. 

As we continued walking, we eventually made it to my host family’s shop, Olive Hills! It is a gorgeous little shop where they offer exquisite olive oils from Italy as well as some local offerings. One of the best olive oils in the world comes from olive orchards located on an island near Takamatsu called Shodoshima. The Oki’s also have an olive orchard and have even begun to produce their own olive oil as well! 


Still being jet-lagged and also having traveled that day, Mom and Meg were tired so we decided to head back to the Oki’s home for a rest. While they were resting however, magic was happening in the kitchen…


But before we ate, we went around the corner briefly to see the end of a little festival that the neighborhood puts on every summer.


They had prepared an incredible meal! There was squid, locally caught sea bream (both of which Mr. Oki prepared himself!), salmon, garden-fresh tomatoes, home-made pickles, cucumbers, Japanese basil, avocado, chicken, red bell peppers, and specially cooked thin-cut beef. The theme of the meal was centered around temakizushi (手巻き寿司), which means hand-rolled sushi. After putting some rice on one end of a seaweed wrap, you can pick whatever other ingredients you want, put them on the rice and then roll it up and eat it. After we had all eaten our fill, we all found ourselves in the car heading for karaoke at around 11pm, ready for the night to continue!


We all very much enjoyed ourselves at karaoke. For Mom and Meg, it had been their first time singing Asian-style karaoke, and they had been slightly hesitant at first, but after a few songs, they had gotten used to it and we’re really into it. After a couple hours, the Oki’s drove them to the inn, and we all got a good night’s rest.


The next morning took us to the port where we boarded a ferry bound for Megijima, an island in the Seto Inland Sea! It was a short ride, about 20 minutes. There are lots of things to on these islands, especially during the art festival season, however we opted to simply have some lunch and then enjoy some sand and sun on the beach. 


After a few hours on the island, we made our way back to land and decided to relax even more; this time at the famous hot spring, Busshozan Onsen! 

 This particular hot spring is special because of its diverse types of baths. There are hot baths with natural oils, warm carbonated baths in cedar tubs, as well as cold baths in stone tubs. This place is easily accessible by taking the train from Takamatsu-chikko station a few stops to Busshozan Station and then walking for about 10 minutes down a quaint, narrow village street. Also, I should mention that if you tell the person working at the Takamatsu-chikko train station that you’re going to the onsen, they’ll give you a package price that not only includes the entrance fee for the onsen, but also round-trip train fare, a special fan called an uchiwa and a Busshozan Onsen towel, for only ¥1000! 


After soaking for an hour or so and relaxing with a beer afterwards, we meandered our way back to the Oki’s home to have a rest before going out to meet my former research advisor, Kii-sensei, for dinner and drinks. Mom and Meg, not able to get enough raw fish yet, were very happy with the food selection.


After dinner we migrated to my favorite bar in the world, Amazon! There, I was able to meet a few more friends of old, Shin-san, the best bartender in the world, and Dejan, my successor from the University of Toledo. As always, we had a blast at Amazon until late in the evening when we all began departing in ones and twos. Last but not least, was Dejan and his friend from the dormitory, and we all got some late night food together before parting ways. Dejan is also keeping a blog! You can check it out here: The Long Route Around the World


The next day, we hopped on the Shinkansen (Bullet train) to Kyoto for the next stage of our journey!