A to Z Challenge 2016 Recap


April is over, and now it’s May! That means that the 2016 A to Z Challenge is over, and I have completed 26 days of posts in one month. This was my first A to Z challenge, so I thought that I would give a short recap and an insight into my experience, aka “What I Learned from A to Z.”

If you are wondering what the A to Z Challenge is, it is a personal challenge to post a blog every day in April (except Sundays). The challenge happens every year, and I found out about it earlier this year and thought it would be a good way to inspire myself to post a more regular basis.


Posting Daily IS Possible!

When I wrote my theme reveal post, I thought that posting daily was going to be really hard, and even though I promised not to give up, I had my doubts in the beginning. However, once I picked a travel theme and started thinking about what posts I wanted to do for each letter in the alphabet, it was a lot easier than I had anticipated! Continue reading


Z is for the Zoo


Finally, today is the last day of the A to Z Challenge April 2016! So, for my final post of this series, Z is for the Zoo. As a child, I loved animals as much as I loved dinosaurs, and so my other favorite place to visit along with natural history museums was the zoo. For many people, this is the best chance to get up close and personal with wild animals.

San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo, in the state of California in the US, hosts over 3,700 animals and has a breeding program that is successfully increasing the numbers of many endangered species, including the famous Giant Pandas. The zoo opened in 1916, and it has been dedicated to providing quality care and quality of life for the animals housed there. A day pass for an adult is $50, and $40 for a child, but the experience is well worth the ticket price. If you ever find yourself in San Diego, the world-famous zoo is not to be missed.

The best times to visit are mid-morning and early evening, especially in the summer. The animals are fed close to these times, and it’s cooler than midday, so the animals are often more active. The crowds are also smaller in the early part of the day, because many people don’t arrive when the park first opens. Summers are humid, which can make the midday uncomfortable, and more crowded, but any time of the year is a great time for the zoo because San Diego’s climate is mild year-round. If you try to see the whole zoo in only one day, you will be exhausted (I’ve tried it), so it’s best to plan out your day if you only have a short time.

Koala - San Diego Zoo

Koala – photo by kei

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Y is for Yellowstone


Today is the second to the last day of the A to Z Challenge! So for today, Y is for Yellowstone. Yellowstone National Park is located in the state of Wyoming in the US. It was established in 1872 and is the first US National Park. It’s famous for wildlife and geothermal features, as it sits on a hot spot with lots of volcanic activity. It’s also a supervolcano that has erupted at least 3 times in the past 2.1 million years!

Old Faithful at Yellowstone

Old Faithful Geyser at Yellowstone National Park – photo by kei

The volcanic activity underground creates many hydrothermal features, such as the world famous Old Faithful Geyser. There are also fumaroles with dry steam, bubbling mud pots, and bright blue hot springs. There are several geyser basins throughout the park, and since the entire park is on a volcano you are never far from a geothermal feature. This means that you should be careful when walking through geothermal areas, stay on marked paths, and never try to touch the hot springs. Continue reading

X is for Xenia


For today’s A to Z Challenge, I learned a new word! X is for XeniaXenia is an ancient Greek word that expresses the concept of hospitality and is roughly translated as “guest-friendship.” In Japanese, the word for hospitality is omotenashi おもてなし, which means “to entertain guests wholeheartedly.”

Both concepts of hospitality focus on the needs of the guest. With omotenashi, the host must anticipate the guest’s needs. With xenia, the host must see to the food, drink, and board needs of the guest first and foremost. Omotenashi is provided without an expectation of receiving a reward in return; xenia is provided with only an expectation that the guest will not be a burden on the host.

Alcove at Hotel Kajikaso Continue reading

W is for Wyoming


For today’s A to Z ChallengeW is for Wyoming. Wyoming is a semi-arid state which is usually dry, and primarily receives precipitation in the form of snow, which can close down roads in the winter. Wyoming is the least populous US state, with plenty of wide open spaces perfect for outdoor enthusiasts.

Bighorn Basin Wyoming

Near the town of Lovell in the Bighorn Basin, WY – photo by kei

The state consists of many geologic basins (low spots), which formed in between mountain ranges (high spots) due to tectonic plate movement during the Cretaceous through Eocene periods. This is called the Laramide orogeny, or mountain-building episode, and this is what formed the Rocky Mountains in the US and Canada. This also means breathtaking views from mountains across the expanse of the basins. Continue reading

V is for Variations on Vacation Photos


For a slight variation on my A to Z Challenge travel theme, V is for Variations on Vacation Photos. I absolutely love to take vacation photos, and I usually come back with thousands of photos. Once I get back I like to share them with friends, family, and complete strangers. However, no matter how memorable the trip was for me, showing tons of photos of places that other people haven’t been isn’t the best way to share the memories with other people. Have you ever sat through a photo album of photos that meant a lot to your friend, but looked like just a bunch of old buildings to you?

The point is, the majority of vacation photos are for the person who went on the vacation and wants to relive the vacation in the future (or shove the photos into a box in the back of a closet). But you still want to share your photos with other people, right? So how can you prevent them from falling asleep halfway through your slideshow from Rome, or clicking to another page on your blog?

The key is to get creative. Try these 4 variations on typical vacation photos, and make a unique album or webpage that catches the eye and leaves everyone wanting to know more.

1. Play with Poses

Not only does this make for creative photos, it’s usually fun to do. At first, it might seem kind of weird, and you might get some sideways glances while striking a silly pose, but the result will be more interesting than if you stand stiffly in front of a landmark with an awkward smile. Plus you can try a few variations until you find something you won’t mind showing other people (I’ve deleted a few photos with a pose that sounded like a good idea, but didn’t work in execution).

Osaka Castle

I’m mimicking the castle shape…
photo by kei

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U is for Utah


U is for Utah in today’s entry of the A to Z Challenge. Specifically, Salt Lake City, Utah. This is the capital and most populous city in Utah. Its name comes from its proximity to the Great Salt Lake, a huge inland salt lake that contributes much to the dry continental climate, that produces hot, dry summers and cold, snowy winters. This makes Salt Lake and the surrounding resorts a popular summer resort and winter skiing destination.

Salt Lake City Utah State Capitol

State Capitol building at Salt Lake City, Utah – photo by kei

The city of Salt Lake City was founded by Brigham Young and other Mormon followers in 1847. They extensively irrigated and cultivated the arid landscape, and today the city hosts the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints headquarters and Temple Square.

Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City Utah

Mormon Temple of Salt Lake City, Utah – photo by kei

The city is a hub for air travel, conventions, music and the performing arts, and of course is a great ski destination. The city is located in a valley, and as a result offers breathtaking Rocky Mountain views of towering mountains beyond the city buildings.

Salt Lake City Utah at Night

Night view of Salt Lake City, Utah (without tripod) – photo by kei

Have you ever visited Salt Lake City? What is your favorite attraction? How about a favorite ski resort (anywhere)? Let me know in the comments!

T is for Tokyo Station


For the letter T in the A to Z Challenge, my obvious choice (if you’ve read many of my other posts) is Tokyo. There are many places to visit in Tokyo, including Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree, so it was difficult to narrow it down. But I narrowed it down, and decided that T is for Tokyo Station 東京駅.

Tokyo Station

Tokyo Station – photo by kei

Tokyo Station is located in the Marunouchi shopping district of Tokyo, Japan. It is the main intercity rail terminal and the busiest station in Japan with over 3,000 trains per day, and serves Shinkansen bullet trains from around the country.

Tokyo Station Ceiling

The iconic ceiling of Tokyo Station – photo by kei

Tokyo Station opened in 1914, and has been rebuilt several times due to fire and WWII bombing, as well as undergoing extensive remodeling. When I was there in late 2014, the surrounding streets were undergoing renovation.

Tokyo Station Christmas Illumination

Tokyo Station Christmas Illumination – photo by kei


In addition to being a train hub, Tokyo Station is also a shopping hub, with many stores, souvenir shops, and small restaurants within the indoor station complex.

Tokyo Station Shops

Tokyo Station Shops – photo by kei

If you are traveling around Tokyo, to the Imperial Palace grounds, Ginza, or by Shinkansen, you may find yourself in Tokyo Station. If you have some time to spare, it’s well worth a look around this iconic train station.

Have you ever visited Tokyo Station? Or a train station or major hub in another country? Tell me about it in the comments!

S is for Sakura


S is for Sakura for this installment of the A to Z ChallengeSakura 桜 is the Japanese word for cherry blossom, the light pink flower that blooms for only a few weeks a year in the spring before falling to the ground in a flurry of blossoms. Cherry blossoms have fallen for the most part in mainland Japan, although Hokkaido is still due to be in full bloom next week. So I thought I would post about these beautiful flowers.

Sakura at Shiroyama

Sakura (cherry blossoms) in Yamanashi Prefecture – photo by kei

Japan has a whole flower-viewing culture 花見 based around cherry blossoms. When spring hits, sakura themed food, drink, and cute characters bloom like the flowers they represent. School ends during cherry blossom season, and many graduation songs reference cherry blossoms. School rejection letters have even been known to contain a metaphor that goes something like “the cherry blossoms are falling.” Continue reading

R is for Roppongi Hills


In the heart of Tokyo, Japan, R is for Roppongi Hills in the A to Z Challenge. Roppongi Hills 六本木ヒルズ is a hub for shopping and night life, and is a result of a massive integrated property development. At the center of the development is the 54-story Mori Tower 森タワー, home to the Mori Art Museum 森美術館 on the 53rd floor, and the Tokyo City View 250 m-high observation deck.

Mori Tower

Mori Tower – photo by kei

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