Day 4- Kyoto

After an uncomfortable night on a bus (albeit a bus with reclining seats, foot rests, cushioned seats, and a half shade to go over your head to block out light), I arrived in Kyoto. After checking into the ryokan (traditional Japanese-style inn)…

…I went to the Fushimi Inari Shrine.  If you’ve ever seen Memoirs of a Geisha, this is the shrine with all the orange torii gates that she runs through after meeting the Chairman for the first time.  It was gorgeous, though a little out of the way on a mountain south of the main city.

 

I’ll be the first to admit that I hadn’t been exactly kind to my body for the first few days of my trip.  Walking around for miles and miles and hours and hours each day isn’t easy, especially if you’re not used to it.  Sure I work out every day, but there’s a difference between working out for 45-60 minutes and walking for 10-12 hours straight. Combine that with sitting on a bus all night and not having any time to stretch or relax and it’s bad news.  About half way back down the mountain, my hip decided that it was just done with this and I spent the rest of the day limping around in pain.  Not so much fun…..

 

I spent the rest of the morning buying copious amounts of souvenirs for my family and walking around Gion (the geisha district) before heading back to the hostel around 5 for a much-needed recovery.  On my way back I was stopped by a guy maybe a couple years younger than me wanting to take a picture together.  Gotta love being one of the few foreigners in a country 😉

 

 

Food of the Day

 

This was the other day I “cheated.” I was starving and couldn’t find anything else reasonable and decent looking, so all-you-can-eat pizza/pasta buffet it was

Green tea soy milk bubble tea – Yummmmm 🙂

 

No idea what this cookie was – it was in my hotel room. I think it was a rice-based sugar cookie thing

I also tried some cold green tea from a vending machine which was so disgusting that I apparently didn’t even take a picture of it.

 

 

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Happy Thanksgiving!

 

It’s that time of year again.  Not that my list ever changes much, but it’s nice to remind myself of the good things 🙂

 

I’m Thankful…

 

…for my family, first and always.  Cat included, though he’s driving me insane tonight. He needs to pop a Xanax.

…for my friends.

…for my health. And my youth (though that seems to be quickly disappearing – I’m 23 – practically an old maid! ;))

…for my job.  I don’t like the work, but I get along with many of my coworkers, it pays the rent (and international travel expenses) and it could be a heck of a lot worse

…for technology.  Cell phone, laptop, internet, etc, etc.

…for the library.  And my Kindle.  Especially my Kindle free classics.  Nothing beats free 🙂

…for Starbucks.  It really is my “third place” and I think I’d go crazy if I couldn’t spend a few hours a week there to unwind.

 

I’m sure I could think of other things, but it’s getting late and the sooner I go to bed, the sooner I get to see my family tomorrow 🙂  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!!!

Tokyo Day 3

First up on day 3 was the Shiba Park/Tokyo Tower area (this is their blatant rip-off of the Eiffel Tower)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next I walked up to Tsukiji fish market.  I only got one picture because it was so crowded.  It was a neat atmosphere, but I probably would have liked it better if the smell of seafood didn’t make me nauseous

 

Next it was over the Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba

Takoyaki museum. Not even kidding.

 

Cat cafe. You pay extra to drink tea and eat snacks while surrounded by cats.

Venus Fort shopping mall.

 

I also passed through Ginza and Ikebukuro, but I went back to do more things there later on in my trip, so I’ll save those for another post.  After wandering around all day I collapsed onto an overnight bus and headed down to Kyoto for the next leg of my trip 🙂

 

Food of the Day:

 

Not sure what makes it “French” milk tea, but it was way sweeter than what I had on day 1

Yakisoba – aka fried soba with a half-cooked egg on top

 

Takoyaki. I wanted something sweet, and on the menu these looked like fried dough with chocolate sauce. Oh how wrong I was….

…you see, takoyaki = octopus. I took one bite for bragging rights, gagged, then threw the rest away.

To make myself feel better, I treated myself to Hokkaido soft serve ice cream with warubi-flavored mochi and green tea. Much better 🙂

 

 

Tokyo Day 2

Day 2 started with a morning walk over to Ueno Park togo to the Tokyo National Musuem

 

I then headed east to Sensoji Shrine

Next up was the Imperial Palace east garden (the actual imperial palace complex is off limits for 363 days a year)

 

Funny story: when I was at Nijubashi (the bridge pictured above) I was approached by 2 young boys doing some kind of school project.  It must have been an “interview a foreigner” assignment to help with their English.  We talked for about 5 minutes, they told me about the most popular manga in Japan and about their currency, asked me what kind of currency we used in my country, and then gave me an itty-bitty snowman shaped bell and a coin to donate at a Shinto shrine.  They were super cute and polite 🙂

 

After the garden, I walked through the Marunouchi and Nihombashi districts up to Akihibara.

 

 

The place where all distance to/from Tokyo is measured

 

Food of the Day

Hot Cocoa – Not as sweet as expected

 

“Veggie” Tempura, which actually came with shrimp. My first time eating with chopsticks in months. I learned by necessity 😉

 

 

 

Tokyo – Arrival and Day 1

13 hours on a plane is a hellishly long time.  There’s really nothing else to it.  Luckily I didn’t have anyone sitting next to me, but that only made it marginally better.  I arrived in Tokyo at 4:30pm local time on Friday, November 2nd. The first night consisted of heading to the hostel, grabbing some food from the grocery store around the corner, and falling into bed. The real fun started the next morning.

After walking down the Sumida river to get a closer look at the new Tokyo Sky Tree…

…I headed down to Meiji Shrine.  It just so happened that I arrived just in time for the last day of a festival celebrating the Emperor Meiji’s birthday.  While I missed the days of dancing and theater, I got to see the yabusame, aka horseback archery.

I then walked around Shibuya

Hachiko- the beloved loyal dog who waited every night for 12 years at Shibuya station for his owner, who had passed away at work one day

And fell in love with the architecture in Shinjuku

Pachinko parlors were EVERYWHERE in all the districts

*Pachinko parlors – as noted in the caption, these establishments were everywhere in practically every district and city I went to.  From what I gathered, it’s like pinball, but requires less skill, and since gambling for money is illegal, you win a prize which you then take to a shop around the corner to exchange for money. I considered trying it, but they have an indoor smoking area which does very little to contain the smoke, so I lasted all of about 2 minutes walking through one before I needed to get out into the fresh air.

Food of the Day:

*Brief disclaimer:  I ate breakfast and dinner at the hostel (usually consisting of fruit for breakfast and a microwaved cheese and veggie sandwich for dinner), so everything here is going to be lunch and snacks.  I tried my best to eat like a local and only failed on 2 days – today being one of them.  I caved and got street fair spaghetti in Shibuya, hence no picture.

Monjya-mon: beef filled steamed bun

Milk Tea- basically milk and sugar with a little tea flavor

Vending machines were also everywhere – a little research revealed that Japan has 1 vending machine for every 23 people.  I made it my mission to try something new every day, although some days that just consisted of trying the same drink by a different brand.  Even considering that I don’t drink soda, energy drinks, or straight coffee, I had plenty of options.

Back again

Let me just start off by saying that Japan was amazing.  Words can’t describe it and pictures don’t do it justice, but I’m still going to try over the next few days to impart a little of the magic via this blog.  I flew back on Wednesday night and had the worst case of jetlag on Thursday that I’ve ever had in my entire life.  Considering I had no jetlag when I came back from Russia, it was not expected.  Work was hellish, to put it mildly. Friday was a little better, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I really got over the worst.  Of course, being me, I couldn’t just take it easy.  I gave myself one day off from exercise and Russian (and only because I was too physically and mentally exhausted on Thursday to contemplate doing anything other than surviving the day), but then I got right back on schedule.  I also went through my pictures…all 1290 of them…. I picked out my favorite 200 or so for a scrapbook and spent a few hours yesterday putting it all together (what can I say, I got in a mood).  Now today I’m ready to start regaling you all with the tales of my travels.

But first, I want to comment on one little phenomenon – the inevitable shock that occurs when people find out that yes, I did in fact travel on my own, all on my own (as in, not with a tour group), and no, I don’t really speak that much Japanese but yes, I went anyway, and no, I wasn’t worried.  I’ve had so many people at work tell me that they’re jealous, that I’m so brave, that they could never do it, how did I survive?, wasn’t I scared?, etc.  I never quite know how to respond, because, for me, it’s totally not a big deal.  For one thing, I don’t go to dangerous places.  While I would love to go to Egypt, it’s not on my list right now because that would be stupid. For another, I prepare.  I take a travel guidebook (I love Eyewitness Travel) and a phrasebook, I get my foreign currency, and I do a lot of internet planning ahead of time, especially with regards to logistics. I have faith in myself that I’m not going to starve.  When all else fails, pantomiming usually works, and there’s always the option of just walking into the local grocery store and buying some ready-to-eat food. Sure, some vendors might be foreigner-phobic, but the vast majority care more about my money then the color of my skin or shape of my eyes. Maybe it’s because I’m more independent than normal, maybe it’s because I just have more practice travelling alone, or maybe I’m simply foolish, but fear doesn’t really come into the equation.  Sure, I might find myself in an unfamiliar or uncomfortable situation, but I’ll figure a way out of it -what is life but a big, continuous improvisation act anyway? Assuming you haven’t done something criminal, everything works out in the end.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, let’s get down to the fun stuff, starting with Tokyo, Day 1 🙂