Tag Archives: Castle

Scottish Highlands

One of my favorite memories from when I was younger in Scotland was going to Loch Ness with my family – in fact, my sister was absolutely convinced that she saw the Loch Ness monsters’ tail and I 100% believe her. Ryan had been to Scotland previously but had not gone into the Scottish Highlands so we decided to road trip up to that area of the country and explore it together. Because I had such fond memories of Loch Ness, we booked a hotel up there and programmed the GPS to get us there. In the morning before we left, we looked at the maps and picked a route through some of the areas that our Scottish friends/family had recommended to us. Ryan has some Scottish roots, so we asked Ryan’s mom to tell us which towns he had relatives from. Right before we left, we got an email from her telling us she knew about a relative who was a ship captain in Old Kilpatrick, so we made sure our route ran through there to check it out. As we were going past on the highway, we saw the sign for Old Kilpatrick and we also saw a church there so we got off the highway to look around. Ryan’s mom gave us a few names and so we split up and looked through the cemetery for gravestones with their names. Ryan came to get me while I was looking around and said he found the name. We were so excited! It was such a neat experience to be at the church in the town where some of Ryan’s relatives had been.

Ryan St Kilpatrick

We continued on the road and Ryan was really getting the hang of driving on the left side of the road so it was smooth sailing. The first stop was Loch Lomond which was really beautiful. We pulled over to take some photos – I told Ryan I wanted to take a picture of us on the “bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond” and being the wonderful husband that he is, he posed for a picture with me.

Loch Lohmond

On the drive up, we stopped in a few little places to check out the area.

Road Trip Stop

We continued our trek into Glen Coe which is one of my mom’s favorite spots in the world and now ours, too. If you’ve seen the newest James Bond movie, Skyfall,  part of it was filmed in Glen Coe so you may find the pictures a bit familiar.  The drive was just beautiful and  we loved every minute of it.

Drive Up Collage

After such a scenic drive, we neared our castle hotel which was on Loch Oich in a quiet area. If I were in the castle building time and looking for a spot to call home, this is definitely where I would choose because it was beautiful and peaceful. 

Glengarry Castle Hotel

Our hotel was still a little ways away from Loch Ness, but it was still light out so we hopped back in the car and headed that direction. The entrance to Urquhart castle had just closed, but we hiked up and got some pictures before continuing on for dinner.

Urquart Castle

It was Easter so we wanted to have a nice meal and I had made reservations at the Loch Ness Inn after reading some great reviews. I’m really glad we went there because the food was great – I was able to have Scottish lamb on Easter which seemed very fitting. We also drank some local beer and had sticky toffee pudding for dessert which I always love.

Easter Dinner

On the way home, we swung by Urquhart castle again because it was lit up. It really is a cool castle and the view of Loch Ness is nice. No monster sightings because apparently Nessie takes the week of Easter off; that’s our story and we’re sticking to it!

Urquhart Castle at Night

The next day, we set off for Eilean Donan castle. The drive there was breathtaking and we stopped to take a few pictures along the way. One of the cool sites was a ship going through the man-made canal between the lochs.

Drive to Eilean Donan Castle

Once we got there, the castle was spectacular out in the water with the little bridge to it. It really had the quintessential Scottish castle look to it and the Isle of Skye is right behind it so the views are just wonderful. We got to go into the castle and walk around which we really enjoyed…it was cold but the blue sky made it even more impressive.

Eilean Donan Castle

Erin & Ryan Eilean Donan Black Border

On the way out, a bag piper was playing so I was able to cross yet another Scottish experience off my list for this trip.

Erin & Bagpiper

The road back was just as beautiful and enjoyable as the drive up had been. In fact, we thought the road back looked more like some of the spots in the James Bond movie…really cool. Glen Coe on the way homeWe truly had a wonderful time in the Scottish Highlands and look forward to going back and spending more time there.

Sheep & Mountain

Japan: Tokyo & Day Trips from Tokyo

The train ride was really nice because we were able to pass Mt. Fuji – it’s an elusive mountain because it is very easily covered in clouds and you can’t really see it. We were lucky enough to see the top of it while our train sped by.

View of Mt. Fuji from the train

When our train pulled into the Tokyo station, we made our way via the subway to our hotel. As usual, it was a very small hotel with a hard bed and a small bathroom, haha. I haven’t spoken too much about the hotels but they are very minimalist in Japan – at one of them, Ryan could touch both walls of the room if he stood in the middle and stretched out his arms. They also didn’t have wifi which surprised both of us – we always thought Japan was super wired, but we learned that Korea is actually much more connected than Japan.

Tokyo Train Station

Anyway…on with our fun adventures – it was really rainy that day, but we decided to go check out the local area to get a feel for the city and then head to Shibuya because we always seem to see that part of Tokyo in movies. We crossed the street and went up to the Starbucks to see the crossing full of people at rush hour. We grabbed a coffee and staked out a spot near the window (this was tough because all tourists head here during rush hour so it was a busy, busy Starbucks – luckily, Ryan and I are good at dividing and conquering…he went to get coffee and I pounced at the first vacant seats. It worked out well).

Shibuya Crossing – lots of umbrellas because it was a rainy day

After that, it was time to head back and then grab dinner. I know that many of you will be disappointed that our first meal in Japan’s capital was not Japanese food…nope, it was the classy establishment: Hooters. If you’ve ever been an expat, you’ll understand that simple reminders of home are incredibly exciting, so we stood in line for 35 minutes waiting for a table. We were not disappointed – the wings tasted just like they did in the US!

To make sure that we made the most of our Japan Rail Pass (and we because we loved train rides), one of Ryan’s friends who lives in Tokyo gave us some recommendations on day trips that we could do. We hopped on the train and got off at the Shin Yokohama station to visit the Ramen Museum. We had the same reaction – there is a ramen museum?! Yes and it’s the most bizarre museum I have ever visited because it has a small exhibit talking about ramen (all in Japanese so I can’t tell you what it was about) and then you go into the basement and it is set up as if it is late 1950′s gangster style Japan. There are several different mini-restaurants where you can get a bowl of their ramen. They were picked as being the best ramen restaurants all over Japan. We tried a couple different dishes and our favorite was one that was miso based with lots of garlic and ginger – simply to die for!

1958 Style Japan – Ramen Style

Ramen with a Miso Base and plenty of ginger – SO good!

 

Round 2 of our ramen tasting – this was really good as well!

 

Then, we got back on the train to go to a zen temple where it was said that one of Buddha’s teeth is stored. As we have told you before, the train is incredibly relaxing – unfortunately this meant that both Ryan and I fell asleep and completely missed our train stop. No worries, though – we got off and then quickly back on the train very well rested and headed back in the right direction. :) We got there and walked around the temple grounds which was an incredibly peaceful place. We saw the building where the tooth was stored, but of course, you’re not able to go in that building. Then we hiked up to the big bell and that wrapped up our visit to the temple.

Temple Grounds

Temple Cat

Monk walking around the Temple

Posing with the bell

Ryan killed this Asian wasp with his bare hands!

We headed right back on the train and went to see the Great Buddha in Kamakura. It’s about a 20 minute walk from the train station and you walk through the cutest neighborhood of Japanese houses. Finally, we got there and we walked up and we couldn’t believe how big it was! We had definitely seen this in our history books growing up and it was unbelievable to see it in person! It is a giant, broze, sitting Buddha statue that is over 13 meters high! It used to be inside a temple but a big tsunami washed away the building and so it’s been outside ever since. After taking enough pictures, we headed back on the train to Tokyo to get a good night sleep before our next day trip.

In the morning, we woke up early and got on the train to Matsumoto to visit the famous castle there. It was a longer train ride and it went through some beautiful mountainous areas – it was a really beautiful train ride. We got to Matsumotto and walked directly to the castle – it was gorgeous! We walked in and around the castle and really enjoyed it. We were blessed with an extremely beautiful day, too, so we were very lucky! We stopped and tried one of the speciality foods there – oyaki. It was essentially a roll filled with yummy ingredients – Ryan had red beans in his and I had pumpkin in mine…very tasty.

Samurai Suit

Then, we got back on the train again and headed to Nagano. You will recognize this name because the winter olympics were here in 1998…we only walked around the city but there are a lot of ski mountains a little ways out from the city – hopefully we will be able to visit these sometime in the future to go skiing. Beyond winter sports, the primary tourist attraction in Nagano is the Zenko-ji Temple. It was built in the 7th century and then Nagano City was built around it. It is also one of the last pilgrimage sites in Japan so there were many people around the temple.

They put the hats and caps on because it was starting to get cold…

Fire breathing statue – smoke came out of his mouth – pretty cool!

Something about this scene just made me think of Japan…

Lanterns out around the temple area

After a nice exploration of the temple, we grabbed some soba noodles (Nagano is said to have some of the best soba noodles in Japan) which were very tasty and then headed back on the train to Tokyo. It was our last night in the city and our friend had graciously promised to take us to the top of one of the buildings (Mori Tower at Roppongi Hills) to see the city view at night. Before we embarked on that journey, he took us to an unbelievable burger restaurant – it was small but it was easily one of the best hamburgers I have ever had…he said that they use some kobe beef in there which makes it extra delicious.

Soba Noodles, Tempura, and Rice – so Japan!

At the top of Mori Tower, there is a special exhibit going on for Disney’s 110th Anniversary. Basically, they turned their helicopter pad on top of the roof into a crazy Disney tribute – there are mirror covered Disney characters that spin around while bright colored lights shine on them and music plays – the first song is always “It’s a Small World” – it was an interesting scene up at the top dedicated to Disney, but the cooler part is that you get to be up on the roof, looking at the panoramic view outside without any windows in your way (the usual look out point is in the building and is indoors). The views were awesome!!

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo City View – we’re purple because of the Disney Lights

It’s hard to make out but these are the spinning mirror Disney characters with colorful lights flashing on them…one of the funniest things I’ve ever experienced…

 

Afterwards, we met up with one of our friends who has recently moved to Tokyo. He took us to show us the “real” Japan which consisted of walking through a lot of alleyways looking for small restaurants/bars where businessmen come at all hours to have some yakitori and some beer/saki after work. We found quite a few and had a lot of fun! It was a great night!

The menu was up on the wall in one of the spots we stopped at (those wood panels are all menu items)

On our last day, we headed to the airport on the Sky Train which was a very fitting last activity (seeing as we loved the Japanese train rides so much). A great end to a wonderful week in Japan! :)

Last picture of us in Japan while on the Sky Train :)

Japan: Kyoto

The next step on our tour de Japan was Kyoto. I had heard so many great things about Kyoto and I am excited to tell you that they are all true! :)Our train pulled into Kyoto (after another wonderful ride on the Shinkansen), we made our way to our hotel where we dropped our stuff off, grabbed a map and headed out. The map is full of sights to see – there are temples, shrines, palaces, and other tourist sites EVERYWHERE! It’s a little intimidating because there is so much to see and we only had a couple of days, but we were super excited! The first day, we walked to one of the temples that was closest to our hotel.

The most fun part about this was actually our surprise survey once we got there. As we walked up, we had several Japanese students (about middle school age) run up to tell us that they were learning English and wanted to ask us some questions. They were really cute because they had a notebook with questions that they asked us and then wrote down our answers. Question 1 was: “Hello. Do you speak English?”


These were 2 of the students that asked us questions…unfortunately we didn’t get a picture with the girls on our camera – they were the funniest, but the boys thought they were pretty cool. Middle school aged kids are the same everywhere it seems :)

It was a bit rainy, so we ducked in to grab some noodle soup – again…super delicious! We headed to Nijo Castle after that. The paintings in the castle were incredible but the coolest part about the castle was that the floors squeak – it was part of their “security system” because no one could walk around the castle without making noise. It must have kept the enemy ninjas from sneaking in. ;)

This was the view of the castle grounds

And as is customary for all good castles – there is a moat!

That night, we headed to Gion – the old area where the Geishas were usually seen many years ago at tea houses. It was really fun to walk along the main street in Gion – particularly at night with the street lamps lit…certainly gave you the feel of the past. In my guidebook, it had shown that there was a Japanese cultural show every night on Gion Corner so we went that direction and got in line for the show. The show covered many of the traditional Japanese arts – tea ceremony, ikebana (flower arrangement), bunraku (puppet theatre), comic play, and dance by the miyako (apprentice geisha). It was certainly an interesting experience, but I think I was expecting something more elegant and impressive than what they had – the dance by the geisha was the highlight of the show.

Main Street in Gion

Old Tea House in Gion

Miyako (Apprentice Geisha)

Bunraku (Puppet Theatre)

Afterwards, we walked around the city and really loved it – it’s a very lively city and it has a good mix of the old and new.

Kyoto Tower (notice the fountains to the side – they were performing to music)

The next day, we decided to rent bikes to ride around the city all day. We hopped on our bikes and headed towards one of the shrines that we really wanted to see – it’s called Fushimi Inari Shrine. We started to head that direction only to realize that this may not be as easy as we thought it was going to be because there are a lot of side roads not listed on the map and just about everything is in Japanese. Minor set back with a few wrong turns, but we found our way to the shrine. It was so cool! The colors were great and you could hiked up a trail that was lined with bright orange arches. We hiked it for a bit and took some cool pictures and then continued on our bike ride adventure.

Entrance to the Shrine

This place was a photographers paradise – so many fun shots!

We headed in the direction of a few other temples and on the way, we ran into some Austrlian tourists that were about our age. We stopped to chat for a bit and it turned out they were heading to the shrine that we had gone to and they recommended the temple that they were coming from, so we swapped directions and headed that way. It’s one thing I love about being a tourist in Asia – it’s pretty easy to spot other tourists and they’re usually pretty friendly – it’s fun! The next place that we headed was called Kiyomizu Temple and it was up on the side of a mountain with great views! While we were walking into this temple, there were many girls dressed in their traditional Japanese attire – Ryan grabbed a picture with them and I’m pretty sure that made their day because they were all so excited to take a picture with him (who can blame them?! :) ).

On our way to the next stop, we found a nice path down by the river to ride our bikes. We rode on this for some time and it was wonderful – lots of people out running, biking, and enjoying the beautiful weather. We had a mountain in front of us and lots of water birds (herons, ducks, egrets, etc.) in the river.

We rode this for a while and then headed over to Ginkakuji (Silver Temple) and walked around the grounds there – they had a little zen garden and a small temple within the pond. It was really nice to walk around…very peaceful.

Ginkakuji (aka Silver Temple although it is not painted silver)

Sand in the Zen garden

The grounds around the temple

Bamboo Forest

View of Kyoto from the trail around the Silver Temple

Nice Fall Colors already starting to pop up!

On the way back, we decided to ride along the river path for a little longer…it was the picture perfect day for a bike ride and we were loving every minute of it!

Ryan was the fearless leader – picking our bicycle course!

Such a beautiful day for a bike ride! :)

As we were walking back from returning our bikes, we saw this guy sitting outside one of the temples

Then, we headed home to get the bikes back and grab some dinner. Our hotel was very close to the Kyoto train station which was huge – up on the highest floors, they had many restaurants and so we had a bento box and then had some sushi as well. The sushi was to DIE FOR. I have seriously never had more incredible sushi in my whole life – we absolutely loved it!

Kyoto Train Station

Bento Box – so many different plates of food!

Our sushi chef preparing our sushi!

The next morning? You guessed it – another Shinkansen ride…this time to the capital, Tokyo!


Of course, they are always exactly on time! We loved that about Japan.

Japan: Hiroshima

There is a holiday in Korea, called Chuseok which is essentially the Korean Thanksgiving – they get together as a family and make a big meal. In addition, they usually go and visit the burial mounds of their ancestors (there are several around where we live and we had seen them trimming the grasses around them and getting ready for this big event). What this meant for Ryan and I was that we had 2 days off of work that week, so we used a few extra vacation days to make a week out of it. We wanted to head to Japan – Ryan had been there several times for work and really liked it so we decided to go back and see it together.

Our first step was to get to Japan – this was the easiest part! We took a flight from Busan to Fukuoka on Friday night and it was the shortest flight I have ever been on – we were literally in the air for 30 minutes. Once we got there, we spent the night and got up early to get on the train and head to Hiroshima. I was SO excited to ride on the Shinkansen (high speed trains in Japan)…Ryan had already experienced this on several of his business trips and loved it so we were looking forward to lots of train rides during this week. Before we left for the trip, we purchased a week long, all you can ride, Japan Rail Pass (if you are planning to travel around Japan for a week, this is a MUST and make sure you get it before you come to Japan).

Shinkansen pulling into the station

Our first ride together on the high-speed train! :)

The train ride was just as wonderful as I thought it was going to be…it was so smooth and super fast. If you know me at all, you know that I fall asleep as soon as I get in the car, so of course this was no different – it was hands down the greatest nap that I’ve ever had, though…the train really does just lull you to sleep. It was glorious! :) You don’t even realize you’re moving at like 200 mph.

Once we got to Hiroshima, we went straight to a noodle bar that Ryan had been to on his business trip previously. It was absolutely wonderful! Some of the best noodles that I have had – so flavorful! Afterwards, we dropped our stuff at the hotel and did a little plan re-arranging. We were not the only ones that chose to vacation in Japan during Chuseok week – so did Typhoon Jelawat so we quickly changed our plans to stay in Hiroshima an extra day to avoid traveling on the day of the storm.

We spent the first day visiting the Atomic Bomb Dome and then the Peace Museum.  The A Bomb dome is basically a shelled out building that was destroyed during the Atomic bombing.  It was one of the only buildings that was left standing so they created a memorial out of it.  It was unbelievable to be looking at something that I had very often seen in History books at school. It really changes your perspective to see it all – war is never a good thing but seeing how bad it can get really stays with you.

Erin at the Atomic Bomb Dome

Peace Monument

Woman praying at the Peace Monument

The peace museum is very well done – it walks you through the steps leading up to the dropping of the bomb (interesting to see the other side of the story) and then you turn a corner and they have an area dedicated to what it was like immediately after the bomb was dropped. As soon as you turn that corner, there is complete silence in the museum – it’s just horrifying to think of what all of those people went through. The rest of the museum talks about the time after that and the effects of radiation and also what is being done to stop the threat of nuclear war. To be honest, I thought that it was going to be a little awkward being an American walking through Hiroshima, but it wasn’t at all – I think there was a real feeling of peace throughout the city. I think they truly believe in the message that they are trying to send – war is a devastating thing and we should strive for peace. I really like that.

Before and After the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima…

Later that night, Ryan took me to find a yakitori place that he had been to before. It was upstairs on an off-alley of the covered shopping area and it took us a little while to find, but we were glad that they did. We ordered all kinds of meat on sticks – scallops, chicken, beef, Japanese mushrooms, etc. It was great! They also had Ryan’s favorite saki – “Ku-Boh-tah” (yes, sounds like the tractor company) so we enjoyed some of that. When they pour the saki in Japan, they put the shot glass on a wooden saucer and then pour it until it spills into the saucer. It gives you a little extra once you’ve finished the glass – kind of like those extra french fries at the bottom of the bag. I love eating at places where you can watch them cook right in front of you so this place was great – good food and gook saki!

The next morning was full of rain from the Typhoon, so we took advantage of a leisurely breakfast and then headed out to the Hiroshima castle once we had some sun outside.

Entrance Area to the Castle (there’s a mote around the other side)

We walked around this area and had to wear these special shoes, haha

Following the step by step instructions on how to cleanse yourself to enter the shrine area of the castle grounds

At the shrine, you could write out a wish – I thought this really encompassed all I had seen from Hiroshima…they really do wish for peace for everyone.

Hiroshima Castle

Inside the castle, there were lots of exhibits about Samurais…Ryan made sure to try on the official uniform – he’s total Samurai material.

For lunch, we went to a place so that we could have the dish that Ryan had been raving about called   “Okonomiyaki.” He said it was Hiroshima’s signature dish and it’s delicious but really hard to describe. He took me to a place and we sat up at the bar and watched them make it for everyone. They make a small pancake (very thin) and then they put a bunch of cabbage, some meat (usually pork and squid), noodles, egg, sometimes green onions, and then lots of okonomiyaki sauce. They layer it all up and then slide it over to you, provide you a small spatula and you literally “dig in” – it was incredible! I loved it! It’s hard to describe what it tastes like but it is certainly worth trying if you are ever in Hiroshima. Sitting at the bar watching them make it while we ate was certainly a highlight of the trip – it was certainly a Japanese experience I will always remember!

Looks questionable, but I guarantee it’s delicious!!!

Afterwards, we decided to relax and enjoy the afternoon by reading in the Peace Park. The afternoon was so nice and it was great to read and do some people watching – there were so many visitors, especially students from all over the world. We loved our okonomiyaki so much that we found another place and had it again for dinner – this one was slightly different and even more delicious!

Round 2 – this time with lots of green onions and beers!

The next morning, we caught the Shinkansen again and headed to Kyoto for some more adventures…

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