Thursday, March 31, 2016

Tokyo By Night

Tokyo is a frenetic, fast-paced, neon lovers, dream of a city. When the sun goes down, it lights up with it's neon billboards and skyscrapers so that it almost seems like it's daylight outside. At night, it seems like a whole different place than the one you walked around earlier that same day.

Our first evening in Tokyo we headed to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building located in the Shinjuku neighborhood to visit it's free observatory. We waited in a fairly short line to go up at sunset and watch the sky darken and the neon turn on. (There are two observation decks but only one was open the night we were there. Hours are 9:30am to 11:00pm) It's a 360-degree view (all interior) of Tokyo.

I knew that I wanted to try yakitori - which is grilled chicken served on a skewer traditionally at happy hour. But since I don't speak or read Japanese I couldn't decipher where to go get it. We had read in a guide book some of the places that were known for happy hour so we just headed in that direction. There were hawkers outside some of the restaurants so we just went with one of those. And it was a good decision.

We later determined - we think- that this was a popular chain restaurant - but we didn't care. It was great! We took off our shoes and had yakitori, salmon croquettes and sushi. Much fun and good food! And very reasonably priced.

One of the most famous places in Tokyo is Shibuya Crossing. Rumored to be the busiest intersection in the world, and located in front of  the Shibuya station, all lights at this intersection turn red at the same time and everyone "scrambles" across the street. There is a prime viewing spot from the 2nd story of the Starbucks across the street. You will need to purchase something to sit at a table there and...good luck finding a seat. It was so crowded when we were there we just stood to watch.

On our last evening in Tokyo my daughter used a restaurant review site and GPS to take us to a restaurant located near Shibuya station.  Gonpachi Shibuya is located on the 14th floor of what looks to be an office building. The elevator empties you into a very cool restaurant with a yakitori grill and tatami rooms with low tables. By far my favorite restaurant we went to in Tokyo - and I would go back again if I return. Maybe every night if I could afford to.  (Be aware this restaurant is not cheap but is good for a special splurge night)

My daughters then went to the Sky Bar for very expensive cocktails to celebrate our week in Tokyo. Me - I successfully navigated my way back to the hotel by subway because sometimes sisters need some time alone together without their mom. And sometimes mom's are just tired after a week in Tokyo.

Photo Credit: Most of these photos were taken by my oldest daughter. Thanks sweetie!

How about you? Have you been to Tokyo? And did you go out at night?

I'm linking up! Please visit: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox,,Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections Enroute, The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond and Weekend Wanderlust at A Brit and A Southerner!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Dirty Dancing in Lake Lure, North Carolina

Lake Lure is the name of a town and a lake located 28 miles southwest of Asheville, North Carolina. Most of the film Dirty Dancing(1987 starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey) was filmed in southern Virginia but a few scenes were shot in Lake Lure. To celebrate their movie stardom, Lake Lure holds a Dirty Dancing Festival every August (this year it is August 19-20) with plenty of dancing, music and food. 

I've never attended the festival but I have been fortunate enough to visit the lake several times and let me tell you, National Geographic was right on the money when they named Lake Lure one of the "10 most beautiful lakes in the World" with it's famous million dollar view. The town is small with a few restaurants, house rentals and it's gem , The 1927 Lake Lure Inn and Spa located across the street from the beach on the lake.

The 1927 Lake Lure Inn and Spa and the beach and waterpark

My niece was married here in a beautiful springtime ceremony under a gazebo on the lake and my daughter attended camp here right on the lake for several summers (crazy lucky, right?) And Lake Lure Tours offers hour long pontoon boat tours of the lake so you can get out on the water without renting a house for the week - which is how I got these photos. But no matter how many times I've visited, it still takes my breath away - such a beautiful mountain-ringed lake!

In 1902, Dr. Lucius Morse and his brothers purchased 64 acres of land around Chimney Rock for $5000. They built a dam which produced the lake and began selling electricity in 1928 which it still does to this day though tourism is the number one source of income now. The lake is known for it's very expensive real estate, it's boathouses and National Geographic crowning it as having "the million dollar view."

Can you see the inventive way these residents made to get to and from the lake?

And of course, it's most well-known for the movie Dirty Dancing and the scene where Patrick Swayze's character Johnny teaches Baby the dance lifts in the water. The movie takes place in the summer at a resort but the filming at Lake Lure was done in November so the crew allegedly spray painted leaves green and glued them to the trees - and the actors filmed in the very cold water and air -supposedly if you look closely you can see their breath.(They also filmed the scene where Baby carries a watermelon down the stairs.)

Johnny and Baby's cove from Dirty Dancing

Baby's watermelon staircase

So if you're a big Dirty Dancing fan, or you just like gorgeous lakes in the mountains, give Lake Lure a visit. I'm sure Dr. Morse had no idea what his $5000 would create back in 1902. Wouldn't he be surprised now?

I'm linking up with: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox, The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond, Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections Enroute  and Weekend Wanderlust at A Brit and A Southerner!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon located on Navajo Tribal Land just outside of Page, Arizona.Honestly, I had never heard of it until this photo taken there sold for a record 6.5 million dollars. When I found out that we would be near Antelope Canyon on our trip to Utah and Arizona I decided to work it into the itinerary. So I did a little research and picked a tour company and booked it. I had no idea what was in store for us or what a cool and unique spot Antelope Canyon is.

We arrived at the Trading Post of Antelope Slot Canyon Tours after our morning boat ride on Lake Powell The trading post was packed with people waiting for the next tour so we waited with them and then were told what vehicle we would be going in. We hopped into the pick-up truck with seats attached to the bed of the truck, or as my son's girlfriend put it "the ride of death to Antelope Canyon."( There were loose seatbelts but we did seem to be precariously balanced on the back of the truck) And we were off to the canyon!

We rode through a gate onto Navajo Tribal Land and then down what looked like a very long, sand drag raceway. Then we all piled out at the entrance to the canyon. (There were 10 or 12 people in our group and about 5 or 6 groups going at our time slot)

As with most tours, the most important part is your guide. And we hit the guide jackpot because we got Leonard. Leonard Nez has been a tour guide at Antelope Canyon for a long time and he knows the ins and outs of the canyon by heart. He knows where the light hits at different times of the day and where to take photos. In fact, Leonard gets photo credit for most of the photos inside the canyon in this post.( A few, however, are mine. )He would say "give me your camera" and take the shot through most of the tour. I just handed my camera to him and let him work his magic. So enjoy some of Leonard's handiwork and the beauty of Antelope Canyon.

The other bonus we got from having Leonard as a guide was his flute playing. After we walked through the canyon, Leonard played his flute for us with the accoustics of the canyon and in the stillness of the desert. Hauntingly beautiful. 

I can use all the adjectives - beautiful, awesome, amazing...but words, and photos, really don't do Antelope Canyon justice. I highly recommend a visit there. I'm so glad we were able to go - and that the Navajo people have made it available to the public.

There are videos of Leonard playing his flute on if you'd like to look them up.
There are different tours for Antelope Canyon - different times of day for different light, photography tours and upper or lower Canyon tours. The tour we went on was on flat, easy-to-walk land with no stairs or difficulties. If you are claustrophobic, it can be a tight squeeze through the canyon walls at times but you almost always can see light from above.

I'm linking up! Check out Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox, The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond, Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections En Route and Weekend Wanderlust at A Brit and A Southerner!