T is Travel Abroad – #atozchallenge

For most of my 250+ blog posts on my Less Beaten Paths Blog, I have discussed the back roads of America and Canada.
But for today’s post in the A-to-Z challenge, I want to note some of my other travels outside of the country. I would like to say I’m a world traveler, but I have yet to visit Europe or Australia or New Zealand or South America. But, I have been very fortunate to have lived in Japan for a number of years. From 1987 to 1991, my family also lives there with me. I have also spent a number of weeks working in the Philippines and spend some time working in China near Shanghai and Suzhou. Finally, I should note that I have also visited the mainland of Mexico during a cruise and was able to see the ruins at Tulum.
Perhaps the best “old shrine” in Japan, Nikko has been around for centuries. This is north of Tokyo. I visited Nikko in 1990.
Hanging with the fish monger and holding dried squid in Takaoka, Japan (ca. 1977)

My first venture overseas was to Japan in 1976 as a missionary for the LDS church. I served in what was then called the Nagoya mission and worked in cities throughout Central Japan including, in order, Kanazawa, Nagoya, Fukui, Takaoka, Ogaki and finally, Fuji City. It was an amazing 22 month experience for me as a young 19 to 21-year-old.

Though most of my time was spent doing missionary work, I did have occasion to travel and visit parts of Japan back then. I also was very lucky to live at the base of the beautiful Mount Fuji, one of the most well known symbols of Japan. Many of the following photos were scanned from old Fujichrome slides taken between 1976 and 1978.
Sumoflam in Fuji, Japan 1978, with Mt. Fuji in the background
Shinto Toori Gates in Fukui, Japan (ca. 1976)
Mt. Fuji framed by Japanese flag, ca. 1978
Gifu Castle in Gifu Japan (ca. spring 1977)
A busy missionary….no cell phones back then. Just Japanese pay phones. (ca. 1978)
Visiting the Imperial Castle in Tokyo just before I left to return home. I was with one of the sisters who I taught in Ogaki in 1977, who came to see me off. (ca. Apr 1978)
Japan Sea sunset taken near Fukui, Japan (ca 1977)
Seijin-shiki (Coming of Age Ceremony) 1976 in Fukui, Japan (ca. Nov. 1976) – A celebration for all that have turned 20 (which I did in 1976)
Big Buddha in Takaoka Japan 1976
Sumoflam at Buddhist Temple in Kanazawa, Japan 1977
Typical Japan Town (forget where this was) (ca. 1977)
Ken-roku Park in Kanazawa. One of Japan’s most famous garden parks (ca. 1976)
Giant fish attacking me in Japan in 1976, in Kanazawa (Yes, I liked the quirky even back in 1976!)
A wave splashes at sunset on the coast of the Japan Sea near Fukui (ca. 1977)
Mt. Fuji and Fuji City ca. 1978
Mt. Fuji at night (ca. 1978)
Snow piled high (yes, it was THAT DEEP!!) in front of the LDS Church in Fukui, Japan (ca. winter 1976/77)

After my return to the states, I went to school, got married, had children and eventually graduated from Arizona State University with a Masters Degree in International Political Science. At that time, in 1987, Japan’s Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Education had started a brand-new program called The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET Program). After consulting with my sweet wife, I decided to apply for that in hopes that maybe we could go to Japan as a family and experience that country together.

Since we were in the Los Angeles district for registration, I really worried that I would not qualify despite my language skills. But I did and was one of the first 38 individuals selected to participate in the program as a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR). There were about 400 others selected as assistant English teachers.
Enjoying wintertime at a resort at the base of Mt. Fuji, near Fujinomiya, Japan in 1987 during a JET Program conference for CIRs.  Notice the slippers in the snow…LOL
David with Gov. Hiramatsu and then British Foreign Minister Sir Geoffrey Howe
The children got a special visit with the then-Governor of Oita, Morhiko Hiramatsu.

My assignment would be to work in the office of the governor of Oita prefecture on the island of Kyushu. Oita’s governor Hiramatsu was a nationally known progressive governor. He had programs that he had instituted to produce locally and think globally. During my two-year stint as a CIR, I got to travel extensively throughout the prefecture and got to meet many wonderful people and experience many wonderful things, as did my family.  Also, as a CIR, I participated in a number of TV programs and my children were in numerous television and print commercials.  It was an amazing experience for us all.

Daughter Chelsea with Governor Hiramatsu at a festival
Some of Japan’s oldest stone carved Buddhas can be seen at Kumano Magaibutsu park in Oita
The village of Usuki, also in Oita, is home of a famous Buddha statue. It is also the original landing place of the Dutch when they first arrived in Japan in the 1600s.
Making a New Year’s TV Show in Oita while working as a CIR
Seth and Chelsea at a waterfall in Japan where they were shooting a TV commercial.
Amaree in Usa, Japan 1987
Family at Usa Shrine in Oita Prefecture ca. 1990
Amaree in a promotional ad for a department store in Fukuoka, Japan
Family at Kumamoto Castle in 1988
Marissa got to be all dressed up for an ad in Japan too
Hanging with a Geisha in Kyoto, Japan 1987
Enjoying a visit to the famed Suizenji Park in Kumamoto
A hot spring shower in Beppu…and yes, the towel was necessary. 1990
Wielding an authentic Japanese katana at a history center in Takata for a TV show.
Visiting the Matsushima Islands near Sendai, Japan in 1990 while on a business trip for Asahi Solar.

On the day that my assignment ended, July 31, 1989, I got onto an airplane to fly to Fukui where I had once served my mission. August 1 would be my first day as the Director of International Planning for a nationally known company called Asahi Solar Corporation, which was also headquartered in Oita. I was the first foreigner to work for that company and I traveled throughout the country with the president of the company. We also made trips to China, Hawaii and other places within the United States in search of improving the solar industry. We even brought a solar water heater to donate to the solar foundation at the Hopi Indian reservation in Arizona.

One of Japan’s smallest castles, the Hikone Castle, supposedly has tiles of gold on top. I visited here in 1990
David in Amagase for another TV Show — yes, Japanese style for those who are curious
Solar water heaters from Asahi Solar
Setting up solar water heater on Hopi Reservation in 1990
David with Colorado State solar car at GM Sunrayce in Florida. Asahi Solar was a sponsor and I managed the project
Visiting the Fukuoka Sumo Basho in 1991 with my wife.

During my four years in Japan from 1987 to 1991, I’ve visited every prefecture in the country except for Okinawa and Hokkaido.

We got to visit many wonderful places and famous places.  We attended the national Sumo Wrestling Tournament in Fukuoka.  We visited some of Kyoto’s famed sites and more.
I took this shot of Konishiki from my seat in Fukuoka in 1991. He made me look small!!
At the Gold Pavilion (Kinkakuji) in Kyoto, Japan in 1990 with my wife and Dad
Nagasaki Peace Park in Sept 1988
Japans second most famous China Town (Tokyo’s is first). This one is located in Nagasaki
Visiting the famed Himeji Castle in 1987
Sumoflam at Nikko Pagoda in Japan
Island Hopping in the Philippines in 2006

Indeed, Japan was a wonderful experience.  Our family returned to the US in late 1991 and eventually made our way to Kentucky.  While in Kentucky I worked for a number of Japanese companies as an interpreter.  I eventually made my way to Lexmark International, where I worked with the software development team to get the Japanese, Chinese, Korean (and other language) versions of their software localized.  While an employee of Lexmark, I made two training trips to Cebu, Philippines, yet another great experience.  You can read a detailed post of my adventures at my Cebu Journal

Visiting the shopping area in Carbon, Cebu, Philippines
Getting a ride in Bike Cart (poor guy…I SHOULD have been pedaling)
The Bride – Cebu
Motorbike Quartet
Blind Guitarist – Colon, Cebu
Pondering Girl – Colon, Cebu
Basket Vendor – Cebu
Buffalo Man – Cebu
Smiling Girl – Cebu
Chocolate Hills in Bohol, Philippines in 2007
The Chocolate Hills in Bohol
A Tersier on Bohol
Bohol Truck – Bohol Island
An outrigger on the small island of Caohagen, Philippines
A young girl on Caohagen Island
Riding an outrigger….yes, I barely fit
A squatter village in Cebu
Enjoying a visit to the Tulum Ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico

My only other real big overseas trip was on a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico.  During this cruise we also got to take a small boat to mainland Mexico and visit the old Mayan ruins of Tulum.

As a lover of history, this was a fascinating visit and one I will not soon forget.

I am glad that my sweet wife was able to accompany me.  You can see the entire story on the Polyesterfest Cruise Post of mine.

Twin cruise ships docked in Cozumel, Mexico
Apparently the world’s smallest Hard Rock Cafe in Cozumel, Mexico
Tulum Ruins, Mexico


A to Z Challenge: The A Towns #atozchallenge

During the month of April I am participating in the  Blogging from A to Z Challenge.  The challenge has each blogger select a theme and then do a post thematically from A to Z during each day of April , except Sundays. My blog is number 1337 out of 1670 participating blogs. This year my A to Z posts will take you across the back roads of America to many unique towns, some known for their names, other for unique sites in town. To see what other bloggers will be posting about, check out the linkA to Z Theme Reveal List for 2016

A The A Towns

Amarillo, Texas

Sumoflam at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas in August 2013
Sumoflam at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas in August 2013
Big Texan Steak House - home of the FREE 72 OZ Steak (if you can eat it all) - Amarillo, Texas
Big Texan Steak House – home of the FREE 72 OZ Steak (if you can eat it all) – Amarillo, Texas

Amarillo is one of the Route 66 towns with a load of places to see and things to do.  One of the most famous attractions is Cadillac Ranch.   It is also famous for the Big Texan Steak Ranch, home of the 72 OZ Steak Challenge. See my full post about Cadillac Ranch, the Steak Ranch and more HERE

Adair, Iowa

Smiley Water Tower in Adair, Iowa
Smiley Water Tower in Adair, Iowa

Adair, Iowa is a small town located off of Interstate 80 (which also serve as US Hwy 6) and is located west of Des Moines. The appeal here is the famed Smiley Water Tower.  The town is also located in the midst of the one the Mid-American Wind Farms and then just acres upon acres of corn fields.  You can read more about my visit to Adair and other places in Iowa and Nebraska HERE.

Alzada, Montana

Stoneville Saloon T-shirt
Stoneville Saloon T-shirt
Stoneville Saloon in Alzada, MT taken in June 2005
Stoneville Saloon in Alzada, MT taken in June 2005

Alzada, Montana is a dot on the map in Carter County in the southeastern corner of Montana.  As of the 2010 census it had a population of 29. Perhaps the small little place in the middle of nowhere is best known for the Stoneville Saloon, which beckons passer’s by with their famed “Cheap Drinks – Lousy Food” slogan.  I visited there with my family and ate their delicious burgers back in 2005.  Read about it and our southeastern Montana adventures HERE.

Alamogordo, New Mexico

World's Largest Pistachio in Alamagordo, NM
World’s Largest Pistachio in Alamogordo, NM
Visiting White Sands, NM in 2013
Sumoflam visiting White Sands, NM in 2013

Alamogordo is located about 12-15 miles east of White Sands National Monument at the junctions of US Highways 70, 54 and 82.  It is one of the premier pistachio growing capitals of the US and is home to the world’s largest pistachio nut, which resides at McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch.

Alligator, Mississippi

One of my favorite shots...Alligator, MS
One of my favorite shots…Alligator, MS
Welcome to Alligator, MS
Welcome to Alligator, MS
Alligator, Mississippi
Alligator, Mississippi

I visited the small town of Alligator, Mississippi while on a drive down the historic Blues Highway, US Highway 61 in Mississippi, in the summer of 2014.  The town has a little over 200 citizens, but is colorful and fun.   There are four or five colorful murals, a Blues Bar and, as of 2009, the town celebrated its first black Mayor.  It is known as the home of the Alligator Blues. See my original post about the Blues Highway HERE.

Alliance, Nebraska

Carhenge - May 2014
Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska – May 2014

Car art dots the United States (see my post about Car Art places HERE).  The Cadillac Ranch, mentioned above and Carhenge in Alliance, NE are probably the two most famous.  Alliance is located in the northwestern corner of Nebraska, just east of Scottsbluff.  The town has about 8500 people and Carhenge is most certainly its biggest draw.  I visited there in May 2014 and have an extensive writeup about the unique attraction HERE.

Ada, Michigan

Ada Covered Bridge, Ada, MI
Ada Covered Bridge, Ada, MI

I have a fascination with many things and one of them is covered bridges.  I have visited dozens of them in the US and Canada.  One of these is located just outside of Ada, MI, which is a suburb of Grand Rapids.  I visited there in 2008 and made my way to a number of places in southern Michigan as well.  You can read the full story HERE.

Akela Flats, New Mexico

Akela Flats, NM near Deming
Akela Flats, NM near Deming


Finally, the last of my A towns is Akela Flats, NM.  Located outside of Deming, NM clear in south on Interstate 10, it is the home of one of the unique Bowlin Travel Centers.  Bowlin owns “The Thing” travel center in Dragoon, AZ and a couple of others.  Akela Flats has an old set of western style store fronts, with fun names…perfect for the family travel photos.  The stores always have the unique tourist trap types of gifts and foods, a throwback to the old days of travel on Route 66 and other US Highways.

Did You Miss My Other A to Z Challenge Posts? Click on a letter below to see the others.


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A2Z-BADGE [2016]


A Trip To New England – September 2015

Baby Samuel September 2015
Baby Samuel September 2015

At the end of August we had a new grandson born into the family — Samuel Kravetz is now grandchild #10.  He was born to my son Seth and his wife Holly, who, at the time, were living near Hartford, Connecticut.  Naturally, this was a cause for celebration and for a trip to Connecticut to see this new bundle of joy.

Our Route to Connecticut from Lexington (via Hershey World and Carlos Bake Shop)
Our Route to Connecticut from Lexington (via Hershey World and Carlos Bake Shop)
Heading east with the grandkidz!
Heading east with the grandkidz!

So, we planned the trip and our daughter Marissa and her three children would join Julianne and I for a visit to New England.  On September 5th we headed east on I-64 for this “see grandson/see nephew/see cousin/see New England” trip.  I was excited not only for the grandchild, but also because this trip would afford me the opportunity to knock off the last 3 states on my list…I would finally get to Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, to make it to all 50.

Sunrise in Eastern Kentucky as we approached West Virginia
Sunrise in Eastern Kentucky as we approached West Virginia
Welcome to West Virginia
Welcome to West Virginia

We were on the road before sunrise and arrived at the West Virginia/Kentucky border just shortly after sunrise.  there is wonderful Rest Area a few miles east of Huntington, WV and so we stopped to give the now awake kids a chance to run a bit.

As for me, I walked around and enjoyed the flowers, the fresh morning air and a chance to stretch my legs as the day would be a long one…we planned to drive all the way to Connecticut and I would be the only driver (as always — because I am a road warrior of course!!)

Welcome to West Virginia
Welcome to West Virginia – West Virginia Welcome Center
I got lucky and got a nice shot of a small butterfly at the rest area
I got lucky and got a nice shot of a small butterfly at the rest area

After the break we were back on the road again heading east on I-64 to Charleston and then northeast on I-79 until we got to Cheat Lake, where the interstate switched to I-68 east towards Cumberland, MD and then eventually onto I-70/I-68.  We finally stopped at the South Mountain Rest Area south of Greenbrier and South Mountain State Parks.  This was a perfect place for the kids to get out and run around, stretch and play.

Lyla and Joselyn climbing around on a hill at the South Mountain Rest Area in maryland
Lyla and Joselyn climbing around on a hill at the South Mountain Rest Area in Maryland
Landen relaxes at the rest area
Landen relaxes at the rest area

While they rested, I was out capturing sots of flowers and plants, of which there was an abundance.

A Unique pod
A Unique pod
A thorny briar or thistle or something
A thorny briar or thistle or something
A nice pink flower
A nice pink flower
Selfie - Explore the Chesapeake at the Rest Area
Selfie – Explore the Chesapeake at the Rest Area
Have a Sweet Day!
Have a Sweet Day!

After a nice rest and stretch, we were back on the road and heading towards Hershey, PA for a sweet visit to Hershey’s Chocolate World.  The last time I was here was with the kids a number of years ago, when there was an entirely different facility.  Now there is an amusement park, a HUGE building, and plenty of crowds.  We had hoped for the factory tour, but the place was away too busy for us since we had to get back on the road…we were driving all the way to Vernon, CT.  But, we had time for a little fun….

Hershey's Chocolate World
Hershey’s Chocolate World
An obligatory Hershey Kiss from Julianne
An obligatory Hershey Kiss from Julianne

And Joselyn wanted to give Grampz a Hershey Kiss as well…

Joselyn gives Grampz a Hershey Kiss
Joselyn gives Grampz a Hershey Kiss

And then there is the Chocolate…

A candy bar the size of Landen!
A candy bar the size of Landen!
Giant Kisses...wanna bite?
Giant Kisses…wanna bite?
The kids get a big kiss from Hershey
The kids get a big kiss from Hershey (photo by Marissa Noe)

After sweetening ourselves up a bit on Hershey’s chocolate, we were soon back on the road eastward, with the next stop planned being Hoboken, NJ for a view of NYC at night and hopefully a visit to the famed Carlos Bake Shop from TLC’s “Cake Boss.”

Midway Diner sign on a barn
Midway Diner sign on a barn

Along the way we stopped for gas in Bethel, PA.  While there, I grabbed a couple of shots of the iconic Midway Diner signs.  It used to be in one of those silver diner styles, but has since been changed.  But, I always love the old Neon Signs like the one below.

Old Midway Diner sign in bethel, PA
Old Midway Diner sign in Bethel, PA
Hoboken, NJ
Hoboken, NJ

After fueling and restroom breaks for the kids (and adults), we were back on the road again.  We pulled into Hoboken around 8:30 PM and drive straight to Frank Sinatra Park to get a nighttime view of the Manhattan portion of New York City.  The kids had never seen it at night and this is probably one of he best places to get a great view of the entire skyline Manhattan.

Built in 1998, it honors Frank Sinatra, who was born in Hoboken. Sinatra Park is shaped in a Roman amphitheater style with an area that faces the former site of the World Trade Center.

The grandkidz get a view of Manhattan from Frank Sinata Park in Hoboken. (Photo by Marissa Noe)
The grandkidz get a view of Manhattan from Frank Sinata Park in Hoboken. (Photo by Marissa Noe)
Blue Eyes Pizza and Gelato in Frank Sinatra Park
Blue Eyes Pizza and Gelato in Frank Sinatra Park (see website)
One World Trade Center all lit up at night, as seen from Sinatra Park
One World Trade Center all lit up at night, as seen from Sinatra Park
Manhattan Skyline with the Empire State building
Manhattan Skyline with the Empire State building

CarlosBakeShop7After the great view, we made our way to Hudson St. and then down to Newark, turned right and then right on Washington to Carlo’s Bake Shop (Actually, they all walked over there and I dealt with the traffic mess!).

A busy bakery! Carlo's Bake Shop in Hoboken at 9:15 PM
A busy bakery! Carlo’s Bake Shop in Hoboken at 9:15 PM

The place was hopping even at 9:00 PM.  I had to double park on the street and Julianne came out to sit in the car so I could get out and get a few photos (and some cannoli!!).  Carlo’s is a family owned bakery featured on the TLC hit show Cake Boss. Carlo’s, was originally opened by Carlo Guastaffero in 1910 and was acquired by Bartolo Valastro Sr. in 1964. After the  passing of Bartolo Sr. in 1994, matriarch Mary Valastro and her children Grace, Maddalena, Mary, Lisa and master baker Bartolo Jr. “Buddy” Valastro have expanded the business with the help of their spouses.  They actually have bakeries in 5 states!!

Sumoflam at Carlo's Bake Shop
Sumoflam at Carlo’s Bake Shop
Cannoli at Carlo's Bake Shop in Hoboken
Cannoli at Carlo’s Bake Shop in Hoboken
The Famiglia
The Famiglia

We picked up some goodies…and I wanted to try the Cannoli, since they are supposedly famous for them.  I had mine, it was good, but not as good as the ones I had at Presti’s Bakery near my birthplace in Little Italy in Cleveland.

Nevertheless, the goodies were good and this made for a fun stopover before we finished the last leg of the trip to Connecticut and a much needed good night’s rest.

The kids hitched a ride on the luggage rack....
The kids hitched a ride on the luggage rack….

We pulled into the Holiday Inn in Vernon sometime after midnight…it was a long day.

I must say that the Noe kids have become seasoned travelers, even at their young age.  Joselyn has been on long trips with me from Arizona to Kentucky and then all three have traveled to Omaha, St. Louis, South Carolina, Georgia and now the northeast coast.  They are a fun lot to travel with!  Grampz is always happy to be with them!

What a day it was….with kisses and cannoli!