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February 12, 2020


sunrise in Kobe

    Wow! I have finally touched land again. Let me tell you, it feels GREAT to be on land again. I am so excited to be in Japan now, I can not wait to see what there is and what it is like here. Sadly in a side note, they have decided that we will not be going to China due to the continuous spread of the Coronavirus. 

    We were supposed to get into port around 7:30am so I was up by 5:45 ready to see everything. Seeing land for the first time in 12 days was amazing! We saw all of the other ships, all of the apartment buildings and houses that go all the way up into the mountain areas. Once we got into the port there was a little band playing in the terminal for us, we could hear and see them from the ship. It was super exciting to see that. It took us a while to finally dock and be able to get off the ship. The first day I had a field class so I was in the first group to get off the ship. We had to go through immigration which was actually pretty simple. I was expecting it to be a bit harder and take a much longer time.

We made it to Japan!!

    The field class I had was for my Principles of Macroeconomics class. We were going to the Japan Stock Exchange and the Bank of Japan. We had to drive on the bus over to Osaka which is about 45 minutes from the ship. Japan is gorgeous! It is very different from the US, there are buildings everywhere. If you look back into the mountains you can see buildings go as far up the mountain as they can. All of the buildings looks different too, there are rarely identical buildings which is pretty cool. We got to see so much on the bus ride to Osaka. Once we got to the Japan Stock Exchange we went and heard from someone that worked there, he explained a bit about the company to us. After that we went to lunch, we had sushi and it was really good sushi. After lunch we got to see the Bank of Japan which is the government bank here. It is where people go to pay taxes and the bank that businesses use for loans and such. Seeing it, learning about how Japan makes their money and then learning about the history of the money was very interesting. Lastly, we went into downtown Osaka and had some free time to walk around. We saw all of the little stores on the side of the streets. There were so many people walking up and down these roads. It was insane to see how many people, bikes, cars, buses, trucks, and more there was roaming around the city. 

    After the field class me and my friend Holly were heading over to Nara for a festival that was happening the next day. Getting too Nara was something else. We were expecting to get on one train and get off at the station in Nara that was 10 minutes from the airbnb. Instead, we ended up taking 4 different trains and ending up at a station 2 minutes away. At one station we went up to ask a group of people which side of the platform to go on. Holly asked them in Japanese, it was a few seconds of silence, the man took his mask down and said “we are chinese” in perfect english. All of us laughed and luckily they were able to tell us which side to go to. At another station, everyone got off of our car and I looked both ways and it was empty on either side. We just sat there patiently waiting and someone walks by outside the cart. He sees us and tells us that this train ended and isn’t going anywhere. Luckily he was able to help us find another train running that would go to Nara. An hour and a half trip only took us like 3 and a half hours. We finally made it to the airbnb which was a traditional style Japanese home.

fire festival fireworks show

    The next day was the best part of the whole trip. Holly had found something about an annual fire festival in Nara that happened to be while we were in Japan. We all decided to go and it was a once in a lifetime experience. During the day we were walking around Nara and we saw the famous bowing deer which was pretty cool. We also saw the great buddha temple, we didn’t go inside but we did get to see the temple which was gorgeous. In the afternoon we headed up to the mountain where the festival was happening. When we got there we saw a lot of people setting up there blankets and such along the hillside. After we got some food which took us a long time (since 1 person in our group did not like any of the food anywhere on the mountain) we headed up the hill to  find a good area to sit. Soon, we saw the parade walk up the hill with their torches in their hands. They all walked to a little campfire and lit it up even more with their torches. While they were there they were all saying chants and singing. Once that was other they all walked in line with their torches to the large bonfire area and started a huge bonfire. Once that happened there was more talking and singing. By this time there were probably 4-5 thousand people standing around. Next, the firework show started and let me tell you… these were the absolute best fireworks I had EVER seen and ever will see. They were huge and so colorful. That went on for about 15-20 minutes and as soon as that was over the hundredS of fire men and women played trumpets and took their torches and lit the tall grass on the side of the hill on fire. After a few minutes the entire mountain was on fire, burning all of the grass going up to the top. Seeing this seemed completely wrong to me! It was something that you would never think you would see but it was absolutely amazing. By that time when I turned around there must have been about 10,000 people along the side of the hill watching the fire. After the fire was going on we decided to leave and head back to Kobe since we had field programs the next day.

Fire festival

    The travel back to Kobe was not a good trip. Instead of 4 trains it took us 6 trains! Someone didn’t let me be in charge of directions and what ended up happening… we got lost and it was not a ‘fun’ lost. She ended up getting us to the wrong port! I was so upset and frustrated, I said that I would start doing directions but instead she kept doing it. Finally, I took over and we were able to get back to the ship. It took us about 4 hours to get back on the ship. It was not the best night but at least we made it back safely in the end. 

    The next day I had a field program that went to the Himeji Castle which was pretty cool. The architecture of that building is much different than anything I have seen before. There are barely and nails or screws, instead they kind of used the wood like puzzle pieces and put it all together so it would stand up on its own. After the castle we all headed up to Hiroshima on the bullet train. The bullet train was so much fun, we were going so fast but you could still see all of the small rural towns back in the countryside. Once we got to Hiroshima we had free time for the rest of the night. Me and a group of friends decided to go walk around downtown and see what there was. We ended up having a great time with great food. By the end of the day we had walked 11 miles which was a lot of walking! The next day we went to the Miyajima island which is a gorgeous place! We saw the Itsukushima shrine, sadly the famous ‘floating arch’ was under construction so we did not get to see it. There were wild deer walking around the entire island, we decided to go to the deer park during our free time on the island. They were so cute and really ate ANYTHING. For lunch we saw some people we knew at an Okonomiyaki restaurant and decided to try it out. Okonomiyaki is a well known food here, it is a crepe type thing with cabbage, noodles, egg, pork, fish sauce, seaweed, and some spices on it. It was really good and we all enjoyed it!! After the island we went to the Peace Park in downtown Hiroshima. This is where the epicenter of the A-bomb was. We saw the building that is still standing from the bomb as well as the museum. The museum was amazing, it was so sad and really put into perspective what the A-bomb had done to this city. Once that was over we headed back to Kobe, once we got to the station I signed out of the program early and I was off on my own to Osaka to meet up with some friends.

Itsukushima Shrine

    Traveling alone on the trains here is not scary one bit. There are women only cars on some trains which is pretty nice. All I had to do was take the bullet train to Osaka and then hop on a subway train to the downtown Osaka station. I was able to do it and only had to ask for help one time! Once I was there I met up with Holly and we walked around downtown for a while. We stayed in a hotel/apartment for the night with some other friends. 

    The next day was the last day so we did not have much time left. All we did was go to a popular store called Tokyo Hand. It had EVERYTHING you could think of. We were all able to find the things we wanted in under an hour which was pretty nice! After that I was on my own again heading back to ship and I made it back without asking for any help! I finally got back on the ship and now it is time to head to Vietnam! Since we are not going to China, we are going to Vietnam for 12 days instead. Overall, these past 6 days have been super busy but I had the best time ever in Japan. I learned a lot about the country, had fun my friends, learned a lot about peoples traveling types, and made many memories. We now have a 6 day trip to Vietnam. 

12 Days at Sea

February 12, 2020


back of the ship at night

    Leaving Hawaii was sad but also I was so excited to get to Japan. When we returned from Hawaii, I got on the ship and when I got back to my room I saw a letter in my mailbox. I opened it and turns out my mom got me a massage and manicure at the spa on the ship congratulating me that I was able to make it the first 10 days on the ship! That was the best thing ever, I decided to use it on this part of the trip since it was so long and I was so scared about it. The voyage from Hawaii to Japan is 12 days long (including the day we lost) and is pretty much crossing the entire Pacific Ocean. I was very nervous for this part of the journey. I always heard that it would be super bumpy and rough water. That did not help my nerves one bit.  These 12 days were long but at the same time it went by so quickly. 

    I had been expecting an awful ride with big waves everyday and never being able to sleep. Well, turns out that this part of the ocean is not the worst. We only had about 4 days/nights of rough water. There were two nights where you could hear the ship crash back into the water after it had gone over a wave. The swells that day/night were about 24 feet tall supposedly. Once again, I slept in the library for those two nights. Even during class the boat would crash back down and the lights would flicker and the chandelier would move a lot. Nobody was having fun that day. I couldn’t even go to school since I was both sick and scared. Instead I just sat outside where it was nice and windy, looking out at the ocean. Other than those days the water was pretty calm, some nights it felt like I was laying on land in my own bed which was pretty nice. 

    We had our classes everyday pretty much (even on Saturdays). With that, we had a few study days which were pretty nice to have. We had nice warm weather for a good portion of the trip. Me and my friends loved sitting outside by the pool area or on the back of the ship in between classes with our smoothies. It is so crazy to me that sometimes I will be chilling on a SHIP looking out into the ocean drinking a smoothie between my classes! It is by far the best way to go to school. All of my classes are interesting, some more than others but they are not super easy which is surprising. Having classes for this many days in a row really showed me that I like my number  based classes a lot more than reading based classes. Luckily I found someone on the ship who also misses math so we are doing statics together! 

    Spending this amount of time with the same people really lets you get to know them. It also makes you want your ‘alone’ time so badly. Luckily since my mom got me a massage and manicure I was able to have one day where I got my alone time. I did not have the highest expectation for a massage and manicure on a ship but turns out that it was a REALLY good massage and the manicure turned out great!! Thanks mom for the gift :). 

    I have been able to make a lot of friends on the ship and it’s super fun. We have become a group of about 8 people and everyday we sit at the same table pretty much all day either talking, doing homework, planning trips, or playing cards. Playing cards everyday, I have learned how to properly shuffle cards finally lol. We have also learned how to play a game that one of my friends families created. It’s super fun but confusing, we are always teaching new people how to play. Spending time with the same people everyday really lets you get close with them and get to know them very well very quickly. We all get along and have a great time together. We will just have to wait and see how we do traveling together in Japan. Hopefully we all travel well together. 

    I have finally been able to start getting into a routine on the ship. I am getting more used to it and it is all feeling normal now. So far, it has been a great experience and I can not wait to get to Japan and see what it is like to be on land again and explore a new country I have never been too. The last few days on the ship before Japan, we have been hearing about the Coronavirus that is happening in China. We are not sure if we are still going to go to China. We will see what happens. 

    Next time we talk I will have finally been to Japan and touched on land again!!!

My view of the Pacific Ocean


January 27, 2020

  Today I finally got to set foot on land for the first time in the past 9 days. It was the best feeling ever to be able to stand still without swaying back and forth every second. For Hawaii, since it was only a one day stop we had to be part of a field program to be able to leave the ship. I decided to do the Pearl Harbor and Waikiki field program. I was kind of hesitant about this field program. It seemed like it would be interesting but not the best. Turns out, I had a great day!

    Luckily one of my friends was also doing that field program so we were able to hangout for the field program. When we first got to Hawaii, we went on the shuttle bus and went over to the USS Missouri. My friend forgot a rain coat, had 2 cameras, and it was pouring rain. I had a rain coat on so I decided to hold her cameras under my jacket like a baby haha. It was really funny but luckily the cameras were able to survive. Walking on the USS Missouri was really fun and it was cool to see what it looked like, where the captain worked, and see all of the “old time” features of the ship. Sadly, we were only on there for about 10 minutes. Once we got off the ship we were starving and they had shaved ice. The two of us decided to share one and let me tell you, it was the best shaved ice I have ever had! After enjoying the shaved ice we walked back to the bus and headed over the actual Pearl Harbor location. Once we got there we got on a ferry and headed over to the memorial. The feeling of being over there was insane. Just knowing that you are standing on top of thousands of dead bodies is not fun at all, especially when you see the names of each person that is on the ship underwater. We were over there for about 20 minutes and it was quite interesting and surprising. After that, all we did was walk around the area and of course we had some more snacks.

    Finally, we were able to have our free time at Waikiki. It was pouring rain SO hard that the ground looked like a lake. I was up to my ankles in water when I was crossing the road. Luckily, we were able to find a shopping center that had a food court. We found a Hawaiian style burger joint and it ended up being REALLY good. We had about an hour of free time left so we found an ABC store which I have never heard of. Those stores have literally anything and everything you could think of. Of course we bought more snacks for the long journey ahead of us on the ship. After our time was up it was time to head back to the ship.

    Getting back on the ship was really difficult to do, nobody wanted to get on since we knew we had 12 days ahead of us being stuck on the ship. To make it even better, everyone had been saying since day 1 that Hawaii to Japan would be even worse. Hopefully the next leg of this trip will be good and next time I talk to you guys I will be in JAPAN!!!

The First Leg

January 12, 2020
The Ship in port in San Diego

January 4th at 7:40am I was supposed to be off on my way Ensenada to begin the journey to Hawaii. Of course, me being me we had to get there at 7:00am and good thing we did. There was a HUGE line of college students with huge bags waiting to check their bags and get all signed in. After a long time waiting in line and getting all checked in, I was in line to board the bus. Of course something had to go wrong at this point… I said my name to the lady with the excel sheet on her laptop and she couldn’t find it. I got pushed to the side after about 5 minutes of her looking for my name. Turns out my whole row in the excel sheet was accidentally deleted. They finally let me get one once they realized that..phew. 

We took a short bus ride to the Mexico border where we got our first stamps and of course we had to wait about an hour for the bus to finally get through security. Once again, we got on the bus and continued driving until we got too Ensenada. Getting there I had to go through security one last time to get on the ship… sadly my favorite turkey jerky had to get thrown away 😦 it was so sad. 

The ship is not enormous compared to some commercial cruise ships. Still, it is pretty big and has a very traditional style. I learned something new about the ship the other day, turns out it was built to look like the boat from the “Love Boat” movie or something and during the summer they use it a as a commercial ship for a romantic “love boat” inspired cruise. I thought that was pretty cool. My room is on the 5th deck (there are 9 decks) and I am the farthest forward you can go. My roommate is from Germany and she is super cool! The ship has been going through some sort of storm for most of this trip so far. That means that there are big swells and lot of rocking back and forth and side to side. The second and third night on the ship I ended up sleeping in the library since it was way to bumpy for me. I also talked to the student dean here and she helped me figure out what to do to be able to sleep comfortably in my room. Now, its all better and I can sleep in my room every night haha. 

Inside double cabin

The first night on the ship was pretty easy, we left the port and we all saw the pretty sunset out in the middle of the ocean. Dinner on this ship is pretty good as well, they really like making potatoes, pasta, beans, and meat. Me and my friends have all decided that we will be ranking all of the desserts on the ship throughout the entire voyage, it is pretty fun to do. The desserts are all quite similar to one another (many fruit cakes). The smoothies… don’t get me started. I have already bought a few, they are sooooo good. 

Lunch on Lido Deck

Regarding classes, I have never realized until now how much I use the internet to help me with my homework. Having no internet, the amount of reading that must be done is insane. I have to read for each class, everyday. The chapters are so long and the reading is quite dense in most of the textbooks. I mean there is nothing better do on the ship but still, it takes a lot of time to read everything and take notes. This is also my first semester not taking some sort of math class, it showed me how much more I like math and science over reading and writing classes of any sort. Luckily, I brought a “Statics for Dummies” book that I can use to practice statics before next semester. 

Overall, the first week on the ship has had its ups and downs. I am so excited to continue this journey once the longest leg of the trip is done. I keep hearing that Hawaii to Japan is the hardest part of the trip. That does not help me out one bit, it just keeps making me more nervous but we will see how it goes in a few days. Next time I write a post hopefully I will be in Japan!

Night view from deck 8 aft

Off On a New Adventure

January 3, 2020

In 2010 the Lowell’s and Shindell’s were staying at an apartment in Istanbul, Turkey.  We were all out on the balcony looking out over the Bosphorus Straights. We saw a cruise ship that said “World Odyssey” and “Semester at Sea”. I asked my mom what Semester at Sea is, she explained how it is a study abroad program that takes students all around the world. Ever since then, I have been really intrigued by this program which is a a study abroad program where you spend 4 months on  a cruise ship traveling to 11 countries. It is pretty much like you are living the real life version of the Disney show “Suite Life on Deck”. 

My Junior year in high school, my Spanish teacher asked us to complete a project about a study abroad program and I decided to use Semester at Sea (SAS). That project convinced me that I wanted to complete SAS at some point in college. Well, I am now taking part in the Spring 2020 voyage to Hawaii, Japan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, India, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana, Morocco, and Amsterdam. Plus a little extra vacation with my dad afterwards to Germany and Iceland (woo hoo). This is something that I have been wanting to complete for the last 10 years and now I finally get to experience this. If you know me well enough, you know how when I have my mind set on something I do not give up until I get what I want. I was able to do it once again with SAS. 

I can not explain how thankful I am for this opportunity. My whole family was supportive the entire time I was preparing for this voyage. These next 4 months are going to be a once in a lifetime experience for me and everyone else on the ship.  Since I am doing such a big trip and won’t always be able to talk to everyone I have decided to bring back “Livin La Vida Lowell” but the Taylor edition this time. It won’t be my dad always writing the blogs (so sad), instead I decided to write blogs for each country to keep everyone up to date. 

Given my past experience traveling, there are a few things that I expect from this long voyage, which are:

  • Gaining knowledge of each country
  • Seeing places I never thought I would
  • Making great memories that will never be forgotten
  • Meeting great people both on the ship and off the ship
  • Just having the best time ever!

  There are also a few questions that I want to ask myself now and answer once I have completed this entire voyage:

  • How was the overall experience?
  • Did it meet all of my expectations?
  • What was the best and worst part?
  • Has it changed me as a person?
  • Should other people take part in the program if they have the chance?

Stay tuned…everyone (including me) is excited to see how this turns out!

She’s making a break for it

June 7, 2011

Taylor walking out of the PICUWow – things have happened so fast.  Taylor is doing amazingly well and we are adjusting to our new version of a normal life.  She was released from the hospital on May 26 in time for her birthday party on May 28. She couldn’t have been happier.  She had the whole thing planned – if they didn’t release her she was going to make a break for it.  So she figured she’d use her God-given talent and charm her way out of the hospital.  It worked 🙂  Here’s how it went down…

Her first embolization procedure was on May 24.  She spent a very restless night in the Pediatric ICU (PICU) with Rick, recovering from the procedure.  She was able to keep her blood pressure down and responded really well to the treatment.  I arrived in the morning to relieve an exhausted Rick.  By morning she was up and around.  By mid-morning, she was walking around the PICU – not something that usually happens as most of the patients are bed-ridden.  This was her first step of her “charming” strategy.  The Physical Therapist came to visit around lunch time – another opportunity to do some charming.  So off we went on a walk around the 3rd floor of Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital, and then for fun, let’s try some stairs.  At this point the PT was having a laughing fit as she rarely gets to work with patients like this.  Much fun was had by all as they planned Taylor’s escape route.

Back we went to the PICU and were told that we had been released to the normal floor – yeah!  We got hugs and cheers of encouragement as Taylor walked herself out of the PICU – again, not something that happens very often.  I was so proud of her.  When we got to her room, there was no bed!  Normally patients from the PICU are wheeled up in their bed…oops!  They got a bed brought in quickly, to which Taylor quite strongly informed everyone “I’m not sleeping in that bed.”  Her doctor, Dr. Edwards, arrived in time to hear this.  She asked him very slyly “Do I have to sleep in that bed?”  Another clear tactic in the war to charm her way out of the hospital.  “I feel great. And that bed makes me feel like something is wrong with me.” (batting her eyes and making a pouty face).  Dr. Edwards told her she could sleep anywhere she wanted, to which Taylor said “Ok. I want to sleep in my bed in my room.”  Everyone laughed!  But she was serious. She slept on the couch/bed and I slept in the hospital bed.  And I gotta tell ya…I don’t blame her.

The next morning the paperwork was ready and waiting and we were discharged before 10:00 am – very rare we were assured by the nurses.  Dr. Edwards stayed late to complete the paperwork so she could be discharged first thing in the morning.  We saw all the Docs on their rounds in the morning, said our goodbyes, got our marching orders and we were “outta there”…Taylor was almost running to the car.

We got home to streamers and balloons, meals provided by friends and hugs from everyone.  It reminded Rick and I of bringing Taylor home from the hospital when she was born.  It is a long story, full of drama (of course) but when we finally made it home, we walked in the door with Taylor in the infant seat.  Not knowing exactly what to do with her, we sat her on the dining room table in her infant seat.  And left her there….la de da…hmmmm….now what?!?!

We had the same feeling this time.  What should we do? Not do?  Is she ok?  Should she be doing that?  Good news is that we’re figuring it out – together as a family.  Riley has been a trouper – supporting her big sister and doing what she can to keep us laughing, which doesn’t take much since she’s hilarious.

Taylor’s last day of 5th grade is this Friday – she will start middle school in the Fall with all her friends. This week is full of parties and fun and a big transition for our little girl.  Her next embolization procedure is scheduled for June 27.  Fingers crossed that everything goes as well as it has so far.  We’ll be dealing with this for 2+ years as they work towards total removal of the AVM.  So, as I said initially, we’re adjusting to a new normal.  We are truly blessed with wonderful children who continue to amaze and inspire us every day, family we couldn’t live without and friends who would do anything for us.  Thanks to you all.


Things are looking up!

May 23, 2011

Classic Taylor…..never one to see the negative in anything, she has embraced everything that LPCH has to offer….including PROM.  She started school today at the hospital and was told that they are having a Prom next week.  Where she got this dress I’ll never know.

Anyway, her first procedure it tomorrow morning.  She has asked for an In & Out Burger for dinner cuz she can’t eat or drink tomorrow.  Fingers, toes, eyes…everything crossed that tomorrow is a great day!