Sunday, February 20, 2011

Quick Stop in Tokyo

After an amazing trip to Australia (thanks Leslie, Ryanne, and Sierra!) I had a quick stop in Tokyo and the below picture pretty much sums up my experience there - I was totally clueless but had a great time!
Mukai-san, my colleague and friend from the Chicago office connected me with two colleagues in the the Tokyo office, Sho and Aya, who took me out for a culinary tour of Tokyo! No Japanese meal is complete without Sake right? And I learned that the traditional way to serve it is overflowing into the coasters below...
Meal number 1 was Oden, a very traditional type of boiled food often served from street food carts. We went to a super tiny restaurant that consisted of a bar with about 10 seats.
Next stop was a small Ramen restaurant. We bought our tickets from this machine out front......then were handed cards where we constructed "make your own ramen" - each person got to choose the broth thickness, noodle crunchiness/softness, spiciness, amount of garlic, type of onion, and type of meat. Thanks to Aya and Sho's patient explanation, I constructed a delicious soup that I loved. I'm a little frighted to think what I would have ordered to myself if I had been on my own, though I probably wouldn't have made it past the vending machine of ramen options at the beginning ;-)
A huge thanks to my wonderful hosts Sho and Aya - we had a night filled with many laughs! I also learned a few new Japanese words, can't wait to try them out at the office when I get back!
My hotel came with a breakfast and I had the choice of English or Japanese style...with such a short trip I had to go for the Japanese style...Sho and Aya has "warned" me about the Natto, which is sticky, fermented soybeans that are typically served with rice and have a very distinctive taste. They were right, it is different and I am glad I had the tip to eat them with the rice, but overall I was a fan.
Stay tuned for Beijing and Shanghai!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Into the Rainforest

First stop of the day Wednesday was the ecological park down the street from our hotel. They had several habitats depicting different regions of Australia. Our favorite was the grasslands where we got to hang out with the kangaroos, wallabies, emus, and tons of ducks and birds.There were lots of baby joeys in the pouch - so cute!
Cassowaries are huge birds native to Northern Queensland and apparently are quite deadly. Our guide told us several attach stories...if you ever run across one of this guys put your arms straight up in the air and back away slowly.
The koalas were sleeping...not shocking as that is how they spend the majority of their time. Apparently there is very little nutritional value in the eucalyptus leaves that they eat and therefore they have to lead a very sedentary life in order to survive.
As we were on our way out we found these adorable and super soft & cuddly baby ducks.
Next up was the Daintree Rainforest which is a World Heritage site and a rather impressive one at that. To apply to be a World Heritage site you can apply based on 1 or more of the 4 qualifications - 1. Spectacular Beauty 2. Represent major stages in world history 3. Represent significant ecological or biological processes 4. Contain important and significant natural habitats. The Daintree is part of the only 10% of World Heritage sites that meet all 4 criteria.
We went on a cruise down the Daintree river - croc country and we saw 5 - 3 babies, 1 medium sized one, and a huge momma that was about 7-8ft - yikes!The last stop was Cape Tribulation - where the Rainforest meets the Reef. James Cook named it Cape Trib because that is where all his troubles began - he hit a patch of coral and almost lost his boat the HMS Endeavor.Unfortunately no swimming due to the stingers -But a gorgeous walk along the beach nonetheless!

Lazy day, crazy night in Port Douglas

After a great day on the Reef we headed up to Port Douglas - an incredible cute beach town about an hour north of Cairns. Our hotel was about a block of the beach and it was fantastic to go for a long run along the beach and soak in the topicality (new word?!). We opted for a lazy day at the hotel pool - so relaxing and gorgeous!
Lots of lily pads surrounding the pool.
I decided it had been too long since I had cooked, so I made dinner before we headed out for the night.
We were off to Iron Bar - where on Tuesday nights they feature Cane Toad racing. We learned a lot about these little guys - they were introduced to Queensland as a predator to the brown bat and since it has no natural predators they are running rampant.
For the first race they used a raffle system to assign the jockeys to their toads - none of us won the raffle. The second (and final) race of the night is the night is the "Feature race" and they auctioned off the frogs. I jockeyed Whopper and Sierra jockeyed Aussie Aussie Aussie (Oye, Oye, Oye!).
Part of the jockey responsibilities are to pick your toad up and place it in the starting corral...
....and apparently the more love you give to your frog the better. Double O (the guy in charge) didn't go for my fake kiss so yes, I have now kissed a prince though ;-)
Sierra left no doubt giving Aussie, Aussie, Aussie a nice big kiss!
The toads are put in the center of the table and the jockeys blow party horns to try and entice the toads to hop to the edge of the table. First one to scoop their toad up and race it over to the finish line wins.
Perhaps I have a future in Cane Toad racing because Whopper and I won! The bounty was a bottle of champagne and a free pass to crocodile world. The champagne was promptly shared with my cheering section and the croc tour was given to some guys we met later in the night - don't worry, I got my fair share of crocs on our rainforest tour the following day. Sierra won a Quatro Equis (double the fun of a Dos Equis!) which Leslie was more than happy to assist in drinking!
Cane Toad Champions - February 2011!!!!
The rest of the might may or may not have consisted of a lot of karaoke and a late night black market bakery!!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Great Barrier Reef!!!

After an extra day in Sydney we headed up to Cairns - just north of where the cyclone hit. There was still a lot of water in the streets/parks, but for the most part they were back to business as usual. The Great Barrier Reef is at one of its closest points to land so many tours leave from there.We boarded a decent sized boat which took us out to a platform moored at the beach where we spent our day. Due to the cyclone it was still rather windy and the seas were rough making for a not so fun 90min trip out to the platform - but I got my sea legs once we got there and spent the day doing two reef dives with lots of snorkeling in between. This is the most boring pic you are about to see - me (in the neon yellow/green fins) getting my diving refresher course!
Leslie and Ryanne did the helmet walk - here they are preparing!
I snorkeled around where they were walking and got some pics of them feeding the fishAnd now on to the diving shots! Clownfish (Nemo!) in the anemone -
Parrotfish -
Angelfish - loved them!
More fish...
This leopard mollusk would shoot out white sticky strands as defense....they are poison to fish and get stuck in their gills.
I have no idea what this thing is...but we got to hold it and it was super squishy...
We found a sea turtle feeding and gave him a little pet!
While all of the above was amazing...I was most fascinated with all the coral...
They were feeding the fish again when i surfaced - see of fish and bubbles!
Happy girls on the ride home!
Amazing day :-)