Posted by: kvklauer | March 24, 2014

Garland Ranch Regional Park


Ness has been looking for a place to hike with our dogs for a while now. After doing a lot of research she found a dog-friendly park with good reviews, Garland Ranch Regional Park in Carmel Valley. It takes just over an hour to reach Garland Park from Hollister. It is about a mile or so from where Laureles Grade Rd. meets Carmel Valley Rd.

Garland Ranch is like an oasis for dog lovers. Most of the hikers and walkers you see there are accompanied by their four legged friends. The park has many types of terrain. There is a river, several ponds, large meadows, and steep slopes that lead up to hills over a 1000 feet high. The visitors center was closed when we visited. It lies in the large valley meadow near the river. Here you can find park maps that will help you and your pup traverse the climbs and switchbacks found throughout the park.


We started off our hike by walking along the valley floor. Then we started the fairly steep Waterfall trail. It is named this because of the seasonal waterfall that is about halfway up the trail. When we visited it was not running but it would be absolutely beautiful after a heavy rain. We then zig-zagged our way up to Inspiration Point which is just off the Deer Trail. Here we found a beautiful view of the valley and the hills across the river. From here you can also trace the path of cars making their way over the Laureles Grade.

It is all downhill from Inspiration Point. We eventually stopped by Fern Pond, Siesta Point, and the Buckeye Nature Trail. Because the trails in the hills are so steep it only takes about a quarter of the time to descend as it does to ascend.


Sasha (Brussels Griffon)

One thing to keep in mind as you hike is just how much your pups can take. If you have a chubby dog or a pup with short legs the steep slopes and stairs may be a little much. It is also very important to bring water for both you and your dog.

Because Garland Park is out in the country there is the possibility of ticks. Our dog got a tick on her ear about halfway through the hike. Luckily, we were able to get it off right away because all our dog wanted to do was scratch, so we knew something was up.

All in all, Garland Park is a great place to visit with or without a furry friend. It is horse friendly as well and it is really neat to see several horses making their way through the beautiful countryside. This park is great for a half or even a full day trip if you are visiting Carmel and Monterey


Posted by: kvklauer | February 6, 2014

Nijo Castle


The first thing we did after arriving in Kyoto was visit the Nijo Castle. It was once the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa shogunate. For those of us not well versed in Japanese culture, the shogunate was basically a long line of military rulers.

Nijo Castle has been designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is very beautiful and very large. Prepare to spend at least two hours walking the parts of the castle that are open to the public. There are a few things that stand out about Nijo. To me, the first is the nightingale floors. The Ninomaru Palace has these floors throughout its buildings. The floors were built so that any movement would create a squeaking noise (like a bird chirping). No matter how lightly you walk. This was done to alert residents of sneak attacks by assassins.

The gardens at Nijo are also very beautiful. They are done in a very traditional Japanese manner with several ponds and lovely cherry, plum, and pine trees. These gardens are a green oasis in the middle of the concrete sprawl that is Kyoto.

Nijo Castle is a great place to go for a stroll. Just be prepared to slip on some uncomfortable slippers if you plan on walking through the palaces.


Posted by: kvklauer | February 3, 2014


While in Hiroshima we also made a side trip to Miyajima. Miyajima is easily accessible by JR train. JR also runs a ferry that is only three blocks from its train station which makes for a seamless trip if you are using the JR pass.

The ferry ride is only about 15 minutes. The island is a beautiful dark green. Its tall mountains loom large above the small town where the ferries dock.

The main attraction on the island is the Itsukushima Shrine. Its torii gate draws your eye as you near the island. It is a massive structure that looks as if it is floating during high tide. At high tide it sits a few hundred yards out into Japan’s inland sea. The bright orange of the torri is beautiful when situated in front of the dark green of the island and blue of the sea.


As soon as we docked and disembarked a group of deer caught our eyes. It seems as if many deer from around the island have become accustomed to being around humans. They lounge on the sidewalks and eat any trash left about. Even though it is posted in several places not to pet or feed the deer, many people still do. Because of this the native deer population is not living as long due to the unhealthy, unnatural diet.

The Itsukushima shrine is more than just the giant torii. There is a very large temple built on stilts that sits above the water during high tide. From this temple you can look directly out through the gate and back toward Hiroshima.

After touring the temple we headed back into the shopping area of the town. Here we found little dessert treats in the shape of maple leaves. My cousin’s wife, Miyo, had told us about how delicious they are. They are kind of like little cakes with filling. They come in green tea, red bean, cheese, and chocolate among other flavors. They are called Momiji Manju and are very popular.

We enjoyed a few of these scrumptious treats before heading back to the ferry and back toward Hiroshima. Miyajima is a beautiful place that probably warrants more time than we gave it. It is definitely worth the side trip, especially if you have the JR Pass.


Posted by: kvklauer | February 1, 2014

Hiroshima Peace Memorial and Museum

As an American, one of the first things that comes to my mind about Japan is our two  countries’ shared histories. The main time frame obviously being World War II. For someone in their twenties, seventy years is a really long time ago. But that is not the case for everyone as all of us have family or friends who were born around the time of World War II.

We decided to make a trip to Hiroshima for its historical significance, something lacking from much of the trip. Most of Japan was affected by the war in some shape or form but through the decades traces of the damage were lost to redevelopment.

Hiroshima on the other hand is a place where the carnage of the war has been frozen in time as a reminder of what we are capable of as humans. The atomic bomb dome, countless memorials, and museum stand in stark contrast to the busy modern surroundings. It is impossible but to feel taken aback by the accounts of the horrors that took place because of the detonation of the atomic bomb.

The day we visited Hiroshima it rained the entire day. It seemed fitting.


We started our walk at the Atomic Bomb Dome. The building that stands is a shell of its former self. It doesn’t loom nearly as large in 2014 as it seems to in the pictures taken in the wake of the bomb being dropped. Skyscrapers in all directions dwarf the dome in size but not in significance. The reason that the dome survived the blast is because the bomb detonated almost directly above the building. Buildings for miles in every direction were flattened; yet it remained. The building has been reinforced with steel girders to keep it intact.

We then walked to several of the memorials remembering different groups of people. Some memorials were for different businesses that had lost all of their employees and another was built to commemorate the children orphaned by the bomb. Each memorial tells the tragic story of lives lost. The magnitude of the event is almost incomprehensible.


Before–Model of Central Hiroshima

Eventually we made our way to the museum. The entrance fee was only 30 yen, which equates to about $.30. The museum is separated between two main parts. The first part gives the history of the events leading up to World War II. I would say that the museum gives a mostly impartial account of the history of the region starting in the late 1800’s. The museum does not gloss over the aggression and atrocities that Japan aimed at its neighbors. It does however give an interesting take on why the bomb was dropped.


After the Atomic Bomb

Growing up in America we are told (or assume) that we used the atomic bomb to save the countless lives of American soldiers who would have had to fight to take the main islands. This is probably at least partly true. The museum proposed that America used the bomb to end the war as soon as possible because Russia had just declared war on Japan. A quick end to the war due to the use of the bomb kept Russia’s influence over Japan mostly at bay.

A good portion of the first half of the museum is also set aside to highlight the dangers of keeping and using an atomic arsenal. The number of nuclear weapons and nuclear weapon mishaps is staggering. There have been more than a handful of times throughout the 20th century that the United States military almost caused disaster with nuclear weapons mistakes.

The second half of the museum is much more difficult to stomach. It is devoted to the effects of the blast. The rooms in this part of the museum are designed to seem as if you are walking through ground zero just after the bomb detonated. The scene includes crumbling walls and injured and dying victims. The room is also filled with artifacts found after the blast. Burnt and tattered clothes, melted soda bottles, and countless other destroyed goods sit encased throughout.

We didn’t spend nearly as long in this part of the museum as it is tremendously sad. Obviously, this is a very necessary part of the museum and a just as necessary part of the experience of visiting the museum. Leaving the museum I couldn’t help but contemplate the horrors of the atomic bomb and the fact that there are still so many at the ready.

Visiting the Peace Memorial and Museum is a must for any visit to Hiroshima. If you decide to visit, prepare to leave in a solemn mood. Deep thought pervades the conscience of anyone who visits.


Posted by: kvklauer | January 31, 2014

Kinkaku-Ji (Temple of The Golden Pavilion)


During our time in Kyoto we visited many beautiful temples. It almost seems as if you can travel more than a mile in any direction without running into some sort of temple or shrine. My favorite temple of the trip is called Kinkaku-Ji. In English it is most often referred to as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion.

Kinkaku-Ji sits in on the northwest edge of Kyoto. Once inside the grounds of temple it easy to forget that there is such a large, busy city waiting outside the gates. Kinkaku-ji is the picturesque version of what I though a Japanese temple would look like. The grounds are lush and the forest is a dark green.

The main attraction is the golden temple itself. It is best viewed from across the pond as soon as it comes into sight. From across the pond the grandeur of the three storied pagoda glistens just above the water. The dark water and trees make the gold leaf adorned building only seem more vibrant. It is a truly stunning building.


After pausing for a few minutes to get the best pictures possible we walked along the water closer to building. As we neared the building we were able to see the detail throughout the structure. One of the neater details is the phoenix that sits atop the building.

Also on the grounds are a few other gardens, small waterfalls, and babbling brooks. The temple has set out baskets in several places where visitors can make a wish and try to toss coins in. This is definitely a must do once you have seen the piles of change from all of the attempts made by the other visitors.


There is also a place where visitors can sit and enjoy a cup of tea and take in the beautiful views. On the way out of the temple there were several vendors selling food and small souvenirs.

Kinaku-ji is a must see attraction for anyone who is in the Kyoto/Osaka area.

Posted by: kvklauer | January 30, 2014

Kamakura, Japan

One of the neater day trips that we took while in Japan was to a place called Kamakura. It is about an hour and a half train ride outside of Tokyo. It is easily accessible by JR trains.

My cousins had gone to Kamakura earlier in their trip and had nothing but good things to say about it. Brooke, especially. So with just a few days left in the trip we knew we had to check it out. Ness and I navigated the JR system and after a couple transfers we exited in Kamakura. From there we jumped on a trolley that took us down within a few blocks of the beach. We strolled our way down to the beach to see the first and only Japanese beach of our trip.


The beach was very calm and mostly deserted as you would expect on a Monday morning in January. It wasn’t overwhelmingly beautiful but I can see how it would it be a great respite for the thousands upon thousands of city dwellers looking for an escape to nature. Soon we were heading up the sloped streets of Kamakura toward Kotoku-In.


Kotoku-In is a Bhuddist temple in Kamakura that has an enormous outdoor bronze statue of Bhudda. Hundreds of years ago the statue was covered by a temple building. Throughout the years several buildings that housed the Bhudda were destroyed by storms and tsunamis. Eventually the temple’s caretakers decided to leave the statue open to the elements.

The fact that the statue is outdoors adds to its majesty. It towers above tourists, surrounding buildings, and even most of the trees around the temple. Its size and beauty make it one of the most well known icons of Japan.


One of the great things about visiting this statue is that they actually let you climb up inside of it. For about $.20 you get to ascend a steep staircase into the statue’s belly. From inside you can see where retrofitting was done in the early 1960’s. Most of the work was done on the statue’s neck to protect the head during earthquakes.

In the temple around the statue you can buy an assortment of charms. There are also many souvenir and kitsch shops that await visitors just outside the temple’s doors. Expect to pay an entrance fee of about $3.00 any time you visit a large temple while in Japan.


After visiting Kotoku-In we decided to stroll back to the JR train station. It was a leisurely walk of about a mile and a half. There wasn’t much to note between the temple and the station. As you near the station, though, there becomes much more hustle and bustle. This is the case at almost every station in the greater Tokyo area. You can almost always expect to find more activity near the stations.

Kamakura is a great day trip from the Tokyo and Yokohama areas. It is definitely worth the train ride to get to experience the grandeur of the giant Bhudda and the serenity of the beach.

Posted by: kvklauer | January 25, 2014

Getting To (and around) Japan

Hello, everyone. It has been a while since we posted. Now we are back with a bunch of information and stories about our two and a half week Japan trip. We will be posting daily on a different topic or attraction from the trip.


Getting to Japan-

When we booked our flights to Tokyo the cheapest way to do it was through Expedia. Our first flight took us from San Jose to Las Angeles International on American Airlines. After an extra long (6 hour) layover at LAX we made our way to Tokyo via an eleven hour flight on Malaysia Airlines. Both American and Malaysia are part of the “One World Alliance” which makes booking long distance flights relatively easy.

LAX’s International Terminal is a sight to behold. If you enjoy high end shopping this is the airport for you. Name a famous French or Italian designer and they have it. As far as food goes we definitely recommend having a sandwich at Ink Sack. It is the only reasonably priced food option in the terminal at around $7.00 a sandwich. Ink Sack’s sandwiches are delicious.


Malaysia Airlines was a pleasant surprise. The plane itself wasn’t awe inspiring but the food on the flight was definitely above average with two hot meals served. The flight attendants also did a great job.

Getting from Narita International Airport to Greater Tokyo-


If you are traveling from the U.S. you will most likely fly into Narita which is a good distance north of Tokyo proper. The easiest way to get into Tokyo and beyond is to take the Narita Express (N’Ex). This is especially true for first timers who do not have a handle on the Japan Rail (JR) system. A trip on N’Ex is going to cost you around $35 one way to get to Tokyo. This is much cheaper and quicker than taking a cab. People looking to saving some money can take the local JR trains into the city. This costs about half as much but takes longer and can be confusing for first timers.

Getting around Greater Tokyo-

Tokyo is one of the most well connected cities in the world. There are multiple rail and subway systems. This can get very confusing. Before we went we bought the JR Pass which gave us unlimited access to the JR system for 14 consecutive days. This cost us $451 each. When using the pass you just flash it to the attendant as you enter and exit each station. This makes it very simple because you do not have to worry about loading a card or paying exact change each time you use the train.

I would suggest trying to stick to one rail/subway system. This will keep your costs down. We mostly stuck to the JR system and used other systems where JR wasn’t available.


Heading out of Tokyo-

Japan is well known for its bullet trains. The fastest shinkansen trains travel at 186 miles per hour and make travel between cities a breeze. These trains make it possible to day trip to cities hundreds of miles away. The best part is that most shinkansen trains are included in the price of the JR pass. Travelers just have to reserve their desired seats for free. We used the shinkansen to travel Kyoto and Hiroshima from Tokyo. The 1 week JR pass pays for itself with one long distance round trip on the shinkansen as these tickets are fairly expensive, nearly the price of a flight.

The train is the best way to get around Tokyo. Roads are much narrower than they are here in the U.S.  Plus Japanese roads have drivers driving on the opposite side of the road. This is hard enough to deal with as a passenger let alone a driver.

Please stay tuned for more highlights and recaps of this awesome trip.

Posted by: kvklauer | November 6, 2013

Hot Air Balloon Ride


For the last few years Ness has been talking about wanting to go on a hot air balloon ride. Being somewhat afraid of heights it has never been high on my list of things to do. A while back Ness sealed our fate by purchasing a hot air balloon ride on Groupon. The Groupon advertised roughly an hour long ride for two for $195. This seemed a little expensive but compared to all other alternatives it was actually very reasonable.


The company that we went with is called Sky Drifters and they are based out of Rancho Murieta, just east of Sacramento. Rancho Murieta is a quiet, upscale area in the foothills of the Sierras.

In order to make hot air ballooning safe we needed to fly at sunrise. Luckily, Ness booked us for the last morning before daylight savings time. This meant sunrise would be relatively late, around 7:30. Sky Drifters asked us to arrive at 7:00. The two and a half hour drive from home meant that we would need to be out of the house by 4:30. Needless to say, it was a pretty early morning. 


We arrived to the Sky Drifters’ crew preparing the balloons and baskets for our early morning flight. We were then given a safety spiel that was surprisingly short. There aren’t a lot of moving parts on these giants balloons. Our next task was to take as many goofy pictures as possible as the crew continued to prep the balloons. Erin, Sky Drifters’ customer service extraordinaire, help us get all of the best shots.


Soon we were in our glorified picnic basket and ready for flight. For some reason the ease of liftoff took away any apprehension that I had about floating through the sky tied to a giant piece of polyester. It wasn’t long until we were quietly floating over cattle ranches, vineyards, and small ponds. Our pilot, Tim, expertly navigated the winds that all of us passengers found imperceptible. He zig-zagged his way up and down to keep us on a direct line.


At no point during the flight do you really feel the wind that decides your direction. It is not until you descend and prepare for landing that you become aware of just how quickly you are moving. The nearer you are to the ground the faster you seem to be moving. When it was time to land I began to realize that they weren’t messing around during the safety meeting when they talked about the basket bouncing upon impact. Even with that in mind the balloon and basket still had a few tricks to play on us. When you first land it is somewhat soft, and there is a lull. A few moments after landing the reverse anchor that is the giant balloon pulls you back off the ground and you get to bounce and skid a few more times.

The packing and storing of the balloon and basket take nearly as long as the balloon ride itself. This is where the Sky Drifters’ staff gives passengers a short history about the origins of ballooning, This history lesson concludes with a nice glass of champagne, without your wings of course.

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Drinking a bit of bubbly was the perfect treat after a romantic sunrise balloon ride. While sipping the champagne our minds and stomachs quickly turned to what we would have for breakfast. There was talk of a diner with mythical portions another twenty minutes up the road in a little town called Plymouth. We figured we had to try it. So we hopped in the car and hustled up the foothills to Plymouth to grab a booth at Marlene and Glen’s Dead Fly Diner.

The Dead Fly Diner doesn’t really impress visually but I doubt that is their emphasis anyway. The prices for the menu are pretty average but the food isn’t. The cooking staff doesn’t hold back in terms of serving size and they definitely don’t skimp on the amount of toppings. If you ask for bacon on your hash browns expect those taters to be covered in bacon. Ask for whip cream on your waffle and get that bad boy smothered in creamy goodness. The same can be said about gravy on the biscuits and avocado on the scramble. This is comfort food at its finest.

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This was a great way for Ness and I to celebrate our 2nd anniversary. A new experience and a belly full of good food hardly ever disappoints.


Posted by: kvklauer | November 4, 2013

George’s Grill

Hungry? In the mood for some home style cooking? You should definitely think about checking out George’s Grill (formerly Kristina’s).

I think I have eaten there four or five times now. I have yet to be disappointed by any meal I have ordered. This past Sunday my wife and I met up with some family friends for a late lunch/early dinner. It was packed with patrons chowing down as usual. We were seated in a booth in the back corner and handed menus.

Almost everything on the menu is relatively inexpensive. This is especially true in regards to portion size. You will not leave George’s hungry. After 5-10 minutes of deliberation I decided on the Chicken Parmesan Sandwich. Who ever wrote the menu for George’s is a chronic under seller. Because I had been there before I knew my plate would be large but had no idea just how big it would be.


When the chicken parm sandwich arrived our whole table was taken aback. I felt a sense of pride as everyone at the table sat slack jawed at the enormity of my meal (possible slight over exaggeration here). Well either way, the plate looked awesome. The slab of chicken was so large it hung out the side of the half loaf of bread that sat in front of me. Alongside the sandwich was a pile of crispy french fries that were the perfect sidekick. Needless to say the steaming hot, cheesy, mess of a sandwich was amazing. I would have to add it to the short list of best meals in Hollister.

Some of the other meals ordered by our group included the french dip, fish sandwich, and french toast. All plates offered a mountain of food. The french toast was great but I would suggest that George’s provide syrup from a bottle or a carafe. The little plastic packets don’t do the slabs of french toast justice. The fish sandwich was massive as well.



All in all, George’s is one of the best meals that you will find in Hollister. The service is great and the portions humongous. The prices are fair and the fare is delicious. Definitely check this place it.

Posted by: kvklauer | October 10, 2013

Niagara Falls Part 3- Highlights

Niagara Falls had much to offer beyond the  Maid of the Mist. Other highlights of our trip included:

Journey Behind the Falls– This was about as close as you can get to the thundering falls. On this tour we took an elevator down into the rock near the falls and then walked a tunnel that took us directly behind the falls. There are two different viewing portals where you can see and hear the water pouring down directly in front of you, not more than 15 feet or so away. The Journey Behind the Falls also offers exclusive access to a viewing platform near the base of the falls. This platform provides one of the best photo opportunities, especially if your phone has panorama capabilities.



White Water Walk– This is another of the attractions included in the Adventure Pass. It is a boardwalk that takes visitors directly alongside the class 6 Whirlpool Rapids. This is probably the most fierce and fast moving water we have ever seen. The water travels at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour creating 9-12 foot standing waves. Information boards are posted along the walk to highlight the history of daredevils taking on these intense rapids.




Niagara’s Fury– This is the lone indoor attraction offered on the Adventure Pass. As we entered Niagara’s Fury we were handed ponchos. This seemed curious as we were indoors. The attraction started off with an animated story that told the geological history of the falls. Once that finished we were led into an adjoining room and walked onto a platform. The platform was completely surrounded by a shallow moat. Soon giant screens surrounding us began to play footage from the Niagara River Gorge. Depending on the scene, the platform would shake, there would be wind, and rain would fall from the ceiling above. It was a very interesting experience.

Embassy Suites Fallsview– I think that anyone who visits the Falls should treat themselves to at least one night in a room with a view of the Falls. That is what we did. We spent the first few nights at the Rodeway Inn Fallsview. This is a budget hotel that does the trick if you are looking for minimalist accommodations. The Embassy Suites however, was on a different level. It was nice to experience a lavish room with a view, cocktail hour, and included all you can eat breakfast. At least for one night.

The view from our room

The view from our room

Yank’s Old Niagara Bar and Grill– This place stands out as what a restaurant should be in a tourist area. Amid all the flashing lights of Clifton Hill we found this great spot thanks to Yelp. It is in a nondescript older brick building. Here they have a dish called “Mexican Cheesecake.” It is actually a cheesy, beefy dip for chips. It was really good. They also serve poutine. Poutine is french fries covered with cheese curds and brown gravy. It is very rich. Probably an acquired taste. I’ll stick to the West Coast special, Carne Asada Fries. Yank’s also has great pizza. All in all, it is a great spot to grab some reasonably priced food and get away from the hordes or tourists. Visit Yank’s Restaurant menu here:



    Above- Mexican Chesecake

Dickie's Steak & Cheezer

Dickie’s Steak & Cheezer

Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort– This is one of the nightlife spots for Niagara Falls. The casino and resort exudes a sense of class that is missing from the Clifton Hill neighborhood with all of its chain restaurants and tourist traps. The Fallsview Casino is probably the spot to see and be seen in Niagara Falls. The clientele here is on par with some of Las Vegas’ nicer casinos. Because of that the table minimums are a little high at anywhere between $15-25 depending on the time of the day. Even if you don’t plan on playing, the Fallsview Casino is a nice place to stroll and people watch.

Niagara-on-the-Lake– This is one of the cuter small towns we have visited. It is is basically one main drag with lots of mom and pop type shops selling all types of high end goodies. One of the coolest shops we saw was Greaves’ Jams and Marmalades. They sell the most delicious jams. Only thing that could make their store better would be if they offered samples. Niagara-on-the-Lake also has a beautiful waterfront that offers endless vistas. We were even able to see all the way to Toronto the day we were there.

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Niagara Falls changes greatly with the seasons. We will probably not have the opportunity to see it in all of its glory in the other seasons. Late summer in Niagara is spectacular. The crowds have begun to thin and the weather is still pleasant, albeit unpredictable. If Niagara Falls is on your bucket list it may be time to start game planning your trip for next summer.

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