Ice Cave and Auroras

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This is the entrance to what our guide referred to as “the most beautiful ice cave in Iceland.”  We didn’t see any other so we don’t have a comparison but it was pretty spectacular.  To get to it, we had a 2+ mile hike on a glacier.

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This was about the only time I was in front on the hike.  We had steel spike crampons over our boots to make walking on the glacier possible.  It took us about an hour and twenty minutes to make the trip.  It was worth it!

This image of some hikers going back to the top of the glacier from the cave entrance will give you an idea of how thick the ice was.

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If you look closely you can see the guide rope we used to hang on to.  This walk up and down was on an ice carved staircase.  As you can see, there wasn’t any snow yet on the glacier so the inside of the cave was lit by sunlight through the ice.

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The inside of the ice cave was fairly large as you can see in this image with our cave guide posing for me.

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This was one of the highlights of the trip for me.  The other was seeing the northern lights.  They are present nearly every night but you need a clear sky and cold temperatures to see them.  They are typically visible between September and March and are the result of solar activity.  Our guide had an app on his phone that predicted the chances of seeing them each night.  We were lucky to see them twice in one night and then again for a very brief time on a second night.

The first time was at Godafoss waterfall.  They weren’t very strong but we were excited to see them.  We were the only people here at the time.  We also had a moonbow from the nearly full moon that night and lots of stars in the sky.

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We felt lucky that we had seen these and after they disappeared we headed back to our hotel for dinner.  As we were finishing dinner we looked out the window and saw them reappear over the lake across the road.  We got our gear and ran across the road and up a small hill to photograph these brighter auroras with their reflection on the lake.

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Here are a couple of pictures I just received from one of Ingrid, one of my Argentine tour mates.   First is one she shot from the top of the hill when I was down by the water shooting the glacier and icebergs.  This will also give you an idea how large some of these icebergs were.

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And another when I was shooting a low angle shot in the same area.

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And lastly, as I was staring out the van window at the passing, amazing landscape and realizing how fortunate I am to be able to travel like I do.

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Iceland is a great place to visit.  Most people go during the summer months.  A friend and her daughter went the end of May and had a great time.  Another friend was there in late June and also had a terrific visit.  There are no ice caves or auroras at that time of year but the weather is usually good.  Winter means less tourists with the possibility of seeing an ice cave if you’re up to the hike to get there and also seeing the northern lights.  I was expecting more snow and that would have added to the photographs but this had been a mild winter so far.  The temperatures during our visit during the daytime was between 28 and 42 degrees Fahrenheit with most days in the mid-30’s.  We only saw one of our hotels because we usually arrived after sunset and left before sunrise.  It was a little strange to see the sunrise around 10am and set about 4pm depending on where we were in the country.  There was lots of rain but we were able to avoid most of it by adjusting our itinerary.  On more than one occasion we’d finish shooting and being heading back to the van and moving on just as the rain started.

Icelandic Airways has lots of flights from various locations in the United States.  They also allow you to stop over for up to a week, I believe, on your way to or from Europe at no additional cost.

I hope you enjoyed the images and that you’ll add Iceland to your bucket list.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Ice Beach and Lagoon

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On the east coast of Iceland is Jokulsarlon Glacier lagoon and beach.  We spent three nights near this place and made multiple trips there at sunrise, sunset and one night to try and capture the northern lights.

The ocean washes these large junks of ice onto the beach and pushes others up the channel to the lagoon.  You have to be careful that the waves don’t pick up one of these icebergs and hit you from the back.  I shot a few images in the lagoon but I had a vision of the kinds of images I wanted to capture and they were on the beach.

The tour buses could park closer to the beach on the opposite side of the channel from where our group went to shoot.  That meant very few people to deal with.

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Some of these ice cubes were the size of cars and others were much smaller.  They reminded me of cut crystal.  Finely polished and often totally clear.

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While others had a greenish/blue color to them.  As the waves rushed in I would frequently have to pick up my tripod to avoid having it sink into the black sand beach.  As the waves rushed out, it would leave a beautiful pattern on the beach.

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Here are some patterns I captured in the ice.

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I’ll have more on the northern lights in my next post but here’s one image I shot at the Jokulsarlon Lagoon.  It was a faint light and only lasted a few minutes.

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It looks like it’s late afternoon but it was actually fairly dark when I shot this.  Often these shots were anywhere between 4 seconds to 30 seconds long.  Thus the look of daylight.

At another glacier lagoon we got low to the water to show the broken surface ice near the edge of the beach with the larger icebergs in the background.

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Iceland lived up to its name at these locations.

Iceland is not an inexpensive place to visit or live.  Gas was about $7 a gallon and eating out wasn’t cheap either.  Typically I’d spend $15-$20 for lunch of soup and a piece of bread.  Maybe a sandwich or a slice of pizza for $10.  Granted it was a large bowl of soup:  shellfish, mushroom, lamb and tomato/bacon soups, for example.  A soft drink was around $3 for a 20 oz. Coke.  Dinner typically cost $30-$40 without splurging.

The first Saturday night, at one of our hotels, the receptionist ask if we wanted to do the buffet that evening.  We answered yes and were told that seating would be at 6:30.   We came down dressed as normal: waterproof boots, multiple layers and maybe waterproof pants.  The lobby was full of the locals in suits and ties, long dresses and pant suits.  We learned it was the annual Christmas buffet.  We had no idea what this was going to cost.

Our host always came to our table first and told us that we could go now for the soup course.  It was shellfish soup with a variety of shellfish including mussels.  About 45 minutes later he came again and told us to help ourselves to the starter course.  The buffet table had nothing but appetizers.  Again, about 45 minutes later, it was the main course and salad followed by a long wait and then the desserts.  I think we finished dinner about 10pm.  Still, we had no idea what this lavish meal was going to cost.  It was added to our room charge.  The next morning I ask at the desk how much the buffet was and was told it was 7900 krona or about $65.  Frankly, for what we got, it really wasn’t bad.

Iceland is about 40,000 sq. miles or just about the size of the state of Kentucky.  It’s about half the size of my home state, Kansas.

As I drove around the southern part of Iceland I saw a lot of small churches like these.

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They’re all designed very similar accept for the Black Church of Budir.  The predominate religion is Evangelical-Lutheran.  It comprises about 90% with Catholic a distant 3.5% approximately, for example.

That’s it for this post.  I’ll wrap up this blog with my next post.  We’ve visit what some call the most beautiful ice cave in Iceland and experience the northern lights.

 

 

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Icelandic Sea Stacks and Landscapes

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This is Vesterhorn. An iconic mountain on the northwest side of Iceland with it’s reflection on the wet black sand beach.  This is sunrise about 10am.  Here’s another view of it.

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We stopped at several locations of sea stacks.  Lava formations jutting up from the ocean.

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Most of the sea stacks were inaccessable to tourists due to their location but this one, Hvitserkur is close enough to shore that visitors would dash out to the rock formation when the wave went out to get their picture taken on it.  Luckily, we were there prior to sunrise and there weren’t many people there.  As the morning wore on, the beach was beginning to get more visitors.  It still wasn’t a place that most tourist buses hit.  Those that did stayed on the nearby cliff to view it from a viewing platform.  To get to this location you had to climb down a fairly steep path.

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This is Londrangar Basalt Cliffs.

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The most brilliant sunrise I saw on the trip.  This was on Lake Myvatn in the north part of the country.

Here’s a couple of images taken from a helicopter over a glacier and of an inlet where sea ice has floated in with the tide.

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These lighthouses are right next to each other on the southern coast.  The square one is out of service and the taller one reflected in a tide pool is currently in operation.

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We saw reindeer on two occasions.  We saw a small herd running in the field as we drove along the eastern side of Iceland.  We didn’t get a chance to stop and photograph them.  The second time I saw reindeer it was on a buffet at our hotel in Reykjavik.  There are two prevalent domesticated animals on the island.  Icelandic horses.

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The other is Icelandic Wool Sweaters.  These are still growing!

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Most of them are rather sheepish but this one let me get fairly close to take it’s portrait.

We’ll get iced up in our next blog.

Thanks for following my trips!

 

 

 

 

 

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Auroras, Waterfalls, Sea Stacks, Ice Caves

I recently returned from two plus weeks in Iceland.  I spent a couple of days traveling independently with my son before joining a small photography group.  Iceland has been on my bucket list for some time.  This relatively small island at 66 degrees north latitude has been growing in popularity over the last several years and I wanted to see it before it is completely overrun with tourists.  The island has a population of about 350,000 and gets more than 2 million visitors a year.  Most visit in July and August.  Most residents live in Reykjavik, the capital.

I left Dallas on Nov. 10 at 4:20pm and had a non-stop flight to Iceland.  It was scheduled to be an 8-hour flight but we made in just over 7 hours arriving at 5am local time.  Iceland is 6 hours ahead of Central Standard Time.   I picked up my rental car and headed for Reykjavik.  The airport was originally built by the United States as a military base during World War II and is about 45 minutes south of the city.  My son had arrive the day before and we had nearly two days together to see as much of the southern coast as possible.  He had been backpacking in Europe and was on his way home.  When I picked him up just after 8am it was still dark as sunrise wasn’t until 9:30.  Sunset was between 3:45-4:15 depending on what part of the country you were in.

Over the next four blog posts, I will do one on waterfalls, one on sea stacks and other landscape locations, one on the ice beaches of Jokusarlon glacier and the ice cave, and one on the northern lights.

Our photo group consisted of four of us and our guide, Raymond.

Here’s our group from left to right it’s me, Ingrid from Argentina, David, my roommate from Australia, Raymond, our guide, and Marianna, also from Argentina.  In the background you can see the Superjeep we needed to get up to the highlands to the waterfall.

The Superjeeps are used extensively during the winter due to heavy snow.  This has been a mild winter so far but the 4-wheel-drive still delivered us to this beautiful waterfall.

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There are more than 200 waterfalls in Iceland.  This is a few of those we visited.  By the way, “foss” is the Icelandic word for waterfall.

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Godafoss at night with a moonbow and some northern lights.  There was nearly a full moon on this night and it created the moonbow with the mist from the falls.

Gullfoss was one of the waterfalls I visited with Derek.  I’m glad we saw it when we did because our group didn’t go back there on our trip.

Kirkjufell Mountain and the falls across the road from it.

These images show the various views of the falls there.

And an image of Kirkjufell Mountain reflected in a nearby lake.

Fjadrargljufurfoss (There’ll be a spelling test later.)

Kolugljufur canyon and falls.  I was shooting from a bridge over the canyon and it was extremely windy.  It was difficult to stand up (I felt like a Weather Channel reporter during a hurricane) let alone try and hold the camera steady on my tripod during the long exposure and keep the rain off the front of the lens.  I shot multiple images here to try and get a few good ones.  Actually, I shot multiple exposures everywhere.  I think my total number of images was a little over 4,000.

Kvernufoss.  This was one of many falls that our guide took us to that had very few tourists there to share it with.  Some of the falls are very popular and have easy access therefore there are multiple tour buses at those locations and lots of people to try and keep out of your shots.  The second and third images above were shot behind the falls.  I wore crampons on my boots to keep from falling on the icy lava.

The following falls, Skogafoss, is one of those were tour buses filled the parking area and getting a shot without tourist was difficult.

Skogafoss seen here with a rainbow.  This falls is more than 180 ft. high and 75 ft. wide.  Lastly, this falls below is also easily accessible.

Seljalandsfoss.  Normaly, you can walk behind this falls.  I was there with Derek before joining my photo group and he was able to walk behind it.  On the day I was there with our group it was closed due to icing on the walkway and lava behind the falls.

We’ll visit some sea stacks, lava cliffs and mountain scenes in my next blog.

Thanks for following my trips!

 

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500,000 Sandhill Cranes in one location

This past weekend, March 25 and 26th,  I was near Kearney, Nebraska at the Iain Nicholson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary photographing Sandhill Cranes.

About five years ago I went to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge south of Albuquerque, NM.  There were about 10,000 Sandhill Cranes and 50,000 snow geese at this location and I thought that was a lot.

An estimated 500,000 cranes show up each March into early April at the Rowe Sanctuary to refuel for their arduous journey back to their breeding grounds in northern Canada, Alaska and Siberia.

During the day, they feed on waste corn in the cropfields near the Platte River.  Many of the farmers in the area leave excess waste corn in the fields for the cranes benefit.   They also use their sharp bills to probe for insects under the surface.

I drove around the area most of Monday making images of the cranes as they spent their day in the fields.  They are very skittish since they are hunted in seven states and are wary of anyone who stops near the edge of the fields.

At night, the cranes move to the Platte River to get away from potential predators.  I had reserved one of four blinds on the banks of the river for Monday night. This was a blind about 30 yards from the one I occupied.

It’s big enough, they say, for two people but it seemed pretty crowded with just me in the one I had.

The blinds are 7′ high x 8′ long x 6′ deep.  It has four wooded window openings, two on the front and one on each end.  They are basically your neighborhood garden shed.  The rules are quite simple.  A guide delivers you to your blind between 4-5pm and they come and get you around 9am the next morning.  You are not allowed to leave the blind, nor stick your lens or your head or arms outside the windows.  I was in my blind for 17 hours.  You bring a couple of sleeping bags and whatever food and water you’d like.  No fires or heaters are allowed either.

Once I was in the blind at 4:30,  I set up my camera gear and began the wait for the cranes to arrive.  They don’t have fixed schedule but using show up around dusk.

I watched as groups of hundreds and thousands of cranes flew by heading west from my location.  For what seemed like hours, they kept coming….but not landing anywhere near my location.  I was beginning to think I had reserved a blind and not a single crane was going to land anywhere near me.  Finally, about 8:05pm.  At dark, the first group landed across the river from me and then they kept coming and coming.  Unfortunately, it was too dark to get many good images.  But I knew there would be cranes there in the morning.

It was 28 degrees during the overnight Monday.  I was comfortably warm with the clothes I had on and my sleeping bags.  I hadn’t counted on not being able to sleep due to the squawking of the cranes just outside the blind.  I got about 2 hours  and at 6:30, I opened the windows facing the river.  It was still dark but the birds were getting restless and soon would begin lifting off and heading back to the fields.

During the next few hours, small groups of three’s and four’s began to leave.

Sandhill cranes are 3-4 feet tall with a wing span of about 6 feet.  They weigh 8-12 lbs and live 20-40 years.  There are a total of 4 blinds for two people and one larger one for small photo tour groups.  Reservations open on January 2. I made mine on January 3.  They also do guided tours to larger blinds both in the morning and in the evening for non-photographers and separate tours that last a couple of hours for photographers who don’t want to spend the night in a blind.

This is the largest gathering of Sandhill cranes in the world.  For accessibility, Bosque del Apache in New Mexico is much more conducive for photographers because the cranes that go there are tamer.  Photographers line up along the shore there and make images without the many restrictions in place here.  The goal of this sanctuary is to protect the cranes and that’s why they are so restrictive.

I don’t consider myself a “birder” but it’s hard not to be impressed by the quantity of birds in one location.

 

 

 

 

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Some Thoughts on Travel Styles

Since I began traveling extensively seven years ago with a nearly two month trip to Alaska, my style of travel has adapted to fit the situation.  When I went to Alaska I drove my cargo van from Dallas and back.

I lived in that van or slept in a tent for all but three nights while in Alaska and three nights in motels on the way home because my traveling partner on the way home, Jean, wasn’t going to sleep in either of those other two places.

I was trying to see and do as much as possible for the least amount of money.  I’m willing to spend money to do whatever is necessary to see certain things.

For example, it was $1250 for one night at Brooks River Lodge, including air fare from Anchorage, to see about 40 grizzly bears in the McNeil River in Katmai National Park.

Iguasu Falls on the border between Argentina/Brazil    

I’ve also taken two helicopter rides and booked a hot air balloon trip in Africa that was cancelled due to weather conditions in order to experience places from different perspectives.  Conversely, I spent less than $100 to camp for five nights in Denali National Park.

I believe there are two ways to travel: with a group or independently.   Independent travel could also be solo travel or with a friend/spouse and where you make your own arrangements for the trip.  Most of my trips have been independent travel.  The only exception was my trip to South Georgia Island last October.  That was group travel.  You either go with a group on a ship or you don’t go.

When David and I started talking about the possibility of a trip to Japan, he told me he didn’t have time to plan it but if I organized it, it love to go.  He asked me what I thought it would cost us.  I had started doing the research already and I threw out a number that I thought was reasonable.  We came in very close to that number.

Another way we could have done this trip is with a small group of individuals led by a professional photographer or two.  Group travel.  The difference in cost would have been two to three times more money and about a week shorter.  One photographic tour group I know of had two photographer co-leaders and a Japanese speaking local guide.   I believe there were about eight people in the group.  Those eight had to pick up the travel expenses for those three leaders and permit them to make a profit for their efforts.  When traveling with a professional photographer you are also getting photo tips and instruction, as well.  There is value to that.   I have the time and I’d rather take more trips and spend less money.  See more, spend less works for me.

When you travel with a group, photographers or not, everything is planned for you.  You don’t have to worry about where you’re going to spend the night, where you’ll have lunch and dinner or how you’re going to get from place to place or what you’re going to see.  There are advantages to that kind of trip.  Also, these leaders have been to these locations before so you aren’t wandering around trying to find some specific location.  For me, a little wandering leads me to places I didn’t expect to see and to photo opportunities I might not have seen otherwise.  Likewise, I may miss something the professional tour guide would have taken me to.

I’ve also booked myself into a place like Jaguar Camp in Brazil and been included with other travelers for a few days to share our experiences.  Even though I met up with others, I did the research of where to go and booked directly with the owner of Jaguar Camp.

I met three sisters on that trip, one of whom reads this blog, and we have periodic communications.  When our time together was over, we each moved on to other parts of our trip.  When I went to Ecuador, I got myself to the Galapagos, booked myself on a one week cruise and met up with thirteen others.  One of those also stays in touch through my blog. I did the research on where and when to go but when I got there I had a shared experience with others.

I’ve found I like a mix of group and solo travel.  For David and me, I liked traveling with someone that I could share common interests and experiences with yet we were in control of where we went and what we saw.  It wasn’t perfect.  We got on the wrong train, got lost in a part of Tokyo and went searching for places to eat.  We turned onto roads we hadn’t planned on traveling and found places we hadn’t expected.  Yet, that was part of the adventure.  In the end, we saw what we went there to see and found a number of things we hadn’t planned on seeing.   I consider our trip to be like solo travel.

Now, quickly to tell you what I liked about each of the photo groups in the last post.

For me, #1 could have gone either way but I decided I liked b & w slightly better.

What should have been #2 and #3, the two snow paths in the trees were largely b & w images.  The blue cast should have been corrected before I posted them.  B & W for me. #4 went missing,

#5 & #6,  again I felt were black and white images except for the blue sky so again, I chose b & w.

#7 was always b& w for me.  I like the drama of it although I can see why several still liked it better in color.

The last two, #8 &  #9, I believe are better in color.  I liked the drama in the sky in #8 and felt it lost that in b&w.  Lastly, #9, could also have gone either way but my preference was for color.

Thanks to everyone who’s participated.  If you haven’t had the time yet, don’t let my opinions keep you from making your choices.

This post will end the Japan blog series.  Until my next trip.  Thanks for reading this.
I appreciate all your comments and suggestions.

Ron

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wakkanai, the northernmost city in Japan!

Wakkanai, Japan’s northernmost city, is only six miles across the channel from Russia.  And it’s Russia, specifically Siberia, that influences it’s weather.  It’s the cold north wind blowing in from Siberia that brings massive amounts of snow to this area.

As we drove in, the blowing snow made visibility nearly zero as we approached the city on the national route 40.  Our hotel here, the ANA Crowne Plaza, was unquestionably our nicest hotel of the trip.  Yet, it wasn’t the most expensive.  It seemed nearly empty when we arrived on Thursday afternoon but Friday night there were several tour buses parked out front and quite a few more cars in the parking lot.  There were dog sled races near the city that weekend.

Wakkanai isn’t at the top of the list of tourist locations in Japan.  During our trip, David and I didn’t go near what is probably the best known city in Hokkaido, Sapporo.  There may be ski resorts near that city but the only one we saw in Hokkaido wasn’t operating.

We came to Wakkanai to photograph what is referred to as the “boat graveyard” and other coastal scenes.  The boat graveyard is a group of nine small fishing boats that are decaying near the beach about an hour south of the city on the western shore.  When we found them, they were nearly buried in snow.  I’ve seen other images of this location taken in January and February and there wasn’t nearly as much snow as when we found them.

As we worked our way around the boats, we occasionally sank up to two feet in snow drifts.  We tried to go back to his location two days later and the coastal road was closed due to blowing snow and near zero visibility.

We spotted  this Axo deer wandering the streets not far from our hotel.

This light marks the entrance to a harbor on the eastern shore south of Wakkanai

The lighthouse at Cape Noshappu.  This is the lighthouse at the harbor at the very north end of Wakkanai about 5 minutes from your hotel.

 

This image shows the underside of a breakwall visible from our hotel room.  The outside, left side as you view this image, protects the shore from the pounding surf,  the underside is used as a place for people to walk for exercise. I didn’t appreciate it much viewing it from my room but once you see it from underneath, it is quite artistic.

I loved the pillars and the design of the ceiling.  This is one of my favorite images from the trip.

David and I turned in our car at the Wakkanai airport on Monday, Feb. 26.  We flew ANA Airlines back to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport where David had a connecting flight (after a six hour layover) back to Auckland.  I had to do another night in Tokyo because I was unable to make the connection.  I stayed at the same hotel about 15 minutes from the airport that we’d stayed at on our two previous stays in Tokyo.  The next day I wandered around the neighborhood before taking the subway back to the airport for my flight to Minneapolis and then on to Kansas City.  I left Tokyo Tuesday, Feb. 27 at 3:30pm (Tokyo time) and arrived in Kansas City on Tuesday, Feb. 27 at 4:30 (Kansas City time). Yes, that’s correct.  It seems like I arrived in Kansas City an hour after leaving Tokyo but, unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.  I gained a day due to crossing the International Date Line.

I appreciate those of you who participated in my color versus black and white blog.  There’s still time to offer an opinion.  I’ll give you my two cents worth and have a few thoughts on different travel options in my final blog on Japan in the next installment.

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