Nozawa Onsen Ski Town, Japan

After enjoying the historical and beautiful city of Kyoto, Japan, Angela and I were all set to travel into the mountains. We were traveling to the mountains west of Tokyo, often referred to as the ‘Japanese Alps‘. Up to this point, I had navigated our train travels throughout Japan with great success using an extremely convenient app called Hyperdia (a must-have for Japanese rail travelers). I became a little complacent with my skills, assuming that I was just awesome at this and little to no effort was required. We were traveling to Nozawa Onsen, and so I punched in the name of the town into Hyperdia, and was rewarded with the train station called Nozawa appearing as a valid location. I thought “must be close enough, same name!”. And so we happily boarded the JR Shinkansen and departed Kyoto for Nozawa. We found it odd that our train ride took us all of the way to the western coast, when Nozawa Onsen is in the mountains, but we chalked this up to being the only route available, but once we started going far to the north of where we should have been, Angela started to get worried. I was filled with faith in the system, and believed that we would soon turn south and somehow arrive conveniently at the door of our guest house. It wasn’t until I had the idea that maybe there was a Nozawa train station that was actually nowhere near Nozawa Onsen that I became worried enough to look it up on Googlemaps, and finally realized that there was indeed a Nozawa station far to the north of where we wanted to be. It was a terrible feeling as travel-panic washed over me, and I had no idea what to do. We decided that we had better jump off sooner than later, as the further north we went, the further away from our destination we would be. We ended up at a small, rural town that the train happened to stop at, and tried to ask the ticket man how we could book tickets to the right place. With some fancy internet skills, we found that we were not so far away, but had maybe overshot our destination by three hours or so. The extremely efficient and convenient system of booking tickets with my JR rail pass soon melted away as it was clear that the Japanese man in the ticket booth had never seen a JR pass before, and was frantically looking through his manual. He also spoke zero English, which was solely our problem because we did not speak any Japanese. Thanks to Angela’s researching skills, we jumped on a train without a ticket (totally possible with the JR pass) and after a stressful, but incident-free three hour train ride and a fifteen minute cab ride, we arrived in Nozawa Onsen. I was sweating a lot.

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Tokyo in Christmastime

The first thing that we did upon finishing our last day of school before our Christmas vacation was to throw our Christmas tree out onto the curb. It was a strange thing to do, especially since it was December 18th. We were about to leave on a three week trip to Japan, and so we bought our tree three weeks earlier than most so that we could enjoy it as long as possible. After that, and a good night’s rest, we took off for our three week trip to Japan.

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Our sad and dead Christmas tree, abandoned in the dead of night to avoid being seen.

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Last Week in Iowa!

Our final week at home is finally here.  It’s crazy how fast 1 month goes!   Nevertheless, Jason and I have been very busy with our time in the states.

The 4th of July weekend was spent in Northeast Iowa, visiting friends and our old stomping grounds!   I do feel that Northeast Iowa may be the most beautiful part of the state!   We were all lucky enough to stay at our old roommates house!   The house provided us all a place to relax and hang out, which made our short time together more fun!   We spent time in Decorah playing disc golf, enjoying the local brew (Toppling Goliath)  and food!   Even though it was a quick trip it was so great to see our friends!

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A Bicycle Adventure in Vietnam

Angela and I had a wild, but incredible trip to Vietnam over our Chinese New Year holiday. We did not have school on Thursday or Friday, but we decided to not fly out until Friday. That allowed us to have one day off, and to bring in the year of the Horse with a celebratory drinking outing on Thursday night. We had a buffet of Indian food, and some beers at the local Shanghai Brewery. On Friday, we were to depart for Vietnam. Friday morning, I threw up the entirety of the Indian buffet that I had eaten the previous night. At first I was concerned that maybe I had one too many beers in honor of the new year, but soon realized that I had some sort of 24-hour flu. I am also a little skeptical that maybe the Indian buffet was partly to blame. Either way, I did not have a pleasant trip to Vietnam. I spent the morning throwing up in various bathrooms in the Pudong International Airport, while Angela took care of checking our baggage and leading me to where we needed to be. I did manage to stop being nauseous right before we actually boarded our plane, which was a relief. I had the chills and aches, but we made it to Hanoi, Vietnam without incident. We were to stay in Hanoi for the weekend before departing for our Spice Roads bicycle trip on Monday.

On Saturday, I was feeling much better. Angela and I decided to wander around the Oldtown quarter of Hanoi. The traffic was not as bad as it normally was, because the Vietnamese people were in the midst of celebrating Tet. The first thing that we did in Hanoi was to get scammed into paying for the photo I took below of Angela.

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Bicycle Update

I thought I would take a moment to update all of you bicycle enthusiasts on how my project was going. I was ready to install my bottom bracket along with my crankset, but I discovered that I did not have any grease. I looked around many local shops, including Trek and Cannondale and realized that grease is not something you can buy just anywhere. I went to a local sporting goods store with lots of bike parts, and tried to explain to them that I needed some thicker grease than the liquid chain grease they gave me. The man there assured me that I could use WD-40 instead of grease. I told him politely that I already had that, and left. Finally on a whim, I checked the Giant store. They did not have any, but the repair guys speak a little bit of English. He ended up putting a little dollop of grease into a little baggy for me for free. I sure appreciated that! Once I had the grease and some wonderful instructions from my Uncle Dave, installing the bottom bracket was no problem. For those interested, I managed to install the circlips without sending them flying or poking my own eye out.

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In case any of my mechanically inclined relatives are concerned, I did realize that the brackets probably needed to be pressed in a tiny bit further in order to properly install the crankset, so I did that after these pictures were taken.

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I installed the crankset without incident, but discovered that I need a larger allen wrench than I own to tighten the non-drive side pedal. I did manage to get the pedal arm started by using some techniques that I’d rather not admit, but will have to find a larger allen wrench before I can finish installing the crankset. I was a little bummed, but happy that I at least have something to show for myself, minimal as it may be.

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On a side note, Angela and I ran to the local grocery store recently and had to pass on the fresh chicken.

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All for now.

Zhujiajiao Water Town

On Tuesday, a small group of us decided to travel to a nearby suburb of Shanghai. There are several old water towns that are very close, and Zhujiajiao is called the Venice of China. With a name like that, how could we pass it up? Our friends John and Catherine Geisen-Kisch researched and found that the best way to get there was by taking a bus from Shanghai that only cost 12 RMB. So we did! We also brought Brett and Angie, the world travelers as they were keen on seeing a water town. The rest of our traveling group included Kat, Kathy, Dianne, and Julia. With 10 of us total, it was quite a large group. We took the metro to People’s Square, and then boarded the bus.

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Nanjing Weekend!

It’s amazing what you can do in one weekend!   This weekend Jason and I traveled with some other friends to Nanjing, China!  Our travel group consisted of 8 people:  Kathy, Heather, Boramy, Kat, John, Catherine, Jason, and me!   We took the train from the Hongqiao Railway Station.  This was our first time to this train station and it was very easy to navigate although it looks confusing.   There was a minor security check that everyone was herded through, and then we just had to find our train number and platform.  We were running behind and nearly missed the train.    Our ride to Nanjing was very pleasant and comfortable and was only one hour and 45 minutes.

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