Tag Archives: Culture

One Girl’s Guide to Engineering School à la française

You are in for a real treat today – my colleague and dear friend, Tamara, is here to write about her engineering study abroad experience in France. She’s a smart and extremely talented woman and I am sure you will enjoy her story as much as I did…

When I took my first French classes in 7th grade, the term “engineer” conjured an image of a suspenders-wearing man who helped drive trains. There are other types of engineers (though driving trains is quite impressive and important, that is not the type of engineering I’d like to tell you about today)…

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Fortunately, thanks to the Penn State Women in Engineering Program’s outreach to high school students, I later learned that engineering is a very broad profession with many disciplines. Engineers can work in many different industries (medicine, food & beverage, energy) across many different geographic areas – including France.

I think I’ll always remember listening to a Penn State engineering student talk about her internship in France. At the time, I was still a high school student trying to decide what major to put on my college applications.  Yes, I liked science and math. Yes, I had fun building robots. However, hearing this student describe living and working in France was different from the typical “sales pitch” to potential engineering students. You could combine an interest in a foreign language with engineering.  Incroyable!

I had loved studying French (as well as math and science, bien sûr) all through middle school and high school. When I heard the engineering student talk about her French internship, the message I came away with was music to my ears. You don’t have to trade your French/English dictionary for a graphing calculator….you can use both.

I think you can compare engineering to a little black dress – great by itself, but even more fun when you can accessorize to your liking with business, law, or even a foreign language.

I accessorized my undergraduate studies in chemical engineering with French classes, an energy industry internship, a pharmaceutical industry internship, and a semester abroad at an engineering school in Nancy, France.

As I had continued to study both French and engineering, I decided that I wanted to apply my foreign language interest and technical skills together. Through online research, I found out about the Global Engineering Education Exchange, and selected three French Engineering schools, including l’Institut National Polytechnique de Lorraine (INPL, or National Polytechnic University of Lorraine), located in Nancy, a small city in Eastern France that I knew essentially nothing about beforehand except that 1) It was in France 2) It had an engineering school.

Although I was woefully under-informed about the city I would come to call home for a semester, I would soon also learn 3) Nancy was a gorgeous city full of lovely parks and promenades, architectural treasures, cobblestone roads, and open air cafés in the warmer months. 4) Nancy was also home to many other international students, though far fewer Americans than larger French cities like Paris.

Open air café in Nancy’s town square, Place Stanislas

Open air café in Nancy’s town square, Place Stanislas

 Now a note on cultural differences and culture shock:

As a foreign exchange student, you may be welcomed by the host country, but you won’t fit in. In my opinion, that’s kind of the point – you step outside of your comfort zone both culturally and linguistically. You struggle to understand and be understood, gaining a new empathy and respect for the international students who face this challenge for their entire academic careers back in the U.S. In facing these often-frustrating challenges, you learn not just about your host country, but about your home country too. The experience will force you to think critically about your own definitions of “normal.” I think that’s a wonderful and powerful personal lesson.

So anyway, engineering school in France. Off to Nancy I went and learned how to perform chemistry lab experiments in French:

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Chemistry lab in French seemed to me fairly similar to lab coursework I had done in the U.S., although there was a pesky difference where they sometimes use commas for decimal points (example: 20.8 is written as 20,8).  Oh, and of course, the rest of the world uses the metric system, so I became accustomed to thinking about temperatures in Celsius and lengths in centimeters and meters.

One of my fondest chemistry-lab related memories actually occurred during spring break. I took a train to the Alps to take a ski lesson (en français, of course) and work on my organic chemistry lab report from my bed & breakfast in the evenings :

A study break from organic chemistry lab writing in the French Alps

A study break from organic chemistry lab writing in the French Alps

Yes, engineering classes are demanding and require even more time and energy when they’re in French. However, as in U.S. university studies, I think it is important to make time for the unique extracurricular activities and events available. Enjoy the people, places, and celebrations for their unique character, even if (or perhaps specifically because) you are sans doute an outsider. I was some combination of lucky and open-minded, and had fun participating in French student life.

The school within INPL that I studied at was called l’École Européenne d’Ingénieurs en Génie des Matériaux (EEIGM), which translates roughly to “European School of Materials Science and  Engineering.” One of the events EEIGM hosted was le Tournoi des 4 Raquettes or “The Tournament of 4 Rackets.” TD4R was part team costume competition and part tennis/squash/badminton/ping-pong tournament.

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Studying in Europe is not all cathedrals and alpine skiing – both European and American college students enjoy any reason to wear ridiculous costumes. One of the funniest memories of my semester abroad turned out to be taking French public transportation from my apartment to the TD4R tournament dressed as a zebra.

That being said – the cathedrals were incredible:

Saint-Étienne Cathedral in Metz, France, nearby Nancy in the Lorraine region

Saint-Étienne Cathedral in Metz, France, nearby Nancy in the Lorraine region

Taking technical coursework in French was challenging, and my semester abroad threw me off-sequence in my undergraduate curriculum, delaying my graduation. It was a time-consuming and expensive accessory to my education. I pursued the experience because it was a very important goal of mine on a personal level, and that made it worthwhile to me.

I emphasize the personal aspect of this time and fiscal resource-consuming pursuit because my message to a student reading this is not “Please take my experience and hit ‘Ctrl+C’.” My intended message is that you can and should seek out opportunities that are meaningful to you on a personal level based on your own values and interests. After all, it’s your little black dress!

Singapore Sights

Beyond visiting the Botanic Gardens in Singapore, we also spent a few days visiting the sights of the impressive, city (well, it’s really a country)! Though it may seem a small country to visit, there is a lot to do and there is always a fun and exciting buzz around the city – it also doesn’t hurt that it almost always boasts the perfect weather to lay by the pool!

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Our first stop was the Merlion which is the symbol of Singapore as it combines the the body of a fish with the head of a lion – it signifies its old roots as a fishing village and its original name which meant “lion city”.

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From the same vantage point, you can see the Marina Bay Sands hotel which we stayed at for a few days while we were there. The other building in the picture (the one that looks like a white Lotus Flower to the left of Ryan’s head) is the Art Science museum – seeing as we are both engineers and love science, you would be right if you guessed that we went there. The building itself is really cool and the dinosaur exhibit was pretty awesome!

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The main reason I wanted to stay there was so that we could go to the infinity pool on top of the hotel. The ship looking structure at the top is where the infinity pool area (called Sky Park) is – it’s currently the highest and largest infinity pool in the world so it was insanely cool to experience that! It’s on the 57th floor looking out onto the city – the views are absolutely spectacular! 

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Singapore Infinity Pool Collage

One of my other favorite activities while visiting was the Night Safari – it’s on the outskirts of the city so it’s easiest to take a cab to get there and it gets pretty crowded, but it’s certainly worth a visit! Seeing as many of the animals at the zoo are nocturnal, what better time to see them than at night when they’re active. You get in a tram and they drive you around the park past all of the animal enclosures. There are several stops where you can get out and take your time walking around. They ask you not to take pictures so you don’t disturb the animals so I don’t have any pictures from the animals, but my absolute favorite part of the park is where you can walk through the enclosure with the Flying Foxes and fruit bats (it’s the “Mangrove Walk which is off of the Leopard Trail) - the bats often whizz right past you! It was awesome! We also caught the otters being particularly playful and it was simply adorable! I’m really glad we spent an evening there!

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One of the other aspects to Singapore that I really liked was the cultural diversity – you are truly in an international city when you are walking around Singapore! You can tell by all of the food options, too – Malaysian, Chinese, Indian, Singaporean, Italian, Spanish, Thai…you name it, they have it! We took a walk around some of those cultural areas of town, enjoyed some great food, interesting drinks (fresh squeezed sugar cane juice!), and soaked in the exciting vibe of the city!

Singapore Culture Collage

On one of our days, we headed to the resort hot spot, Sentosa Island. We went to go to Universal Studios because we both love roller coasters! We had a fun day wandering around the park and going on all of the rides. The park areas were extremely well done – Jurassic Park and the huge Egyptian figures were something to see! While that was impressive, I do have to admit that the rides weren’t anything all that special. We were lucky to be there on a day when the lines weren’t too long so it was easy to get onto the rides. If you’re short on time, I wouldn’t put this as very high on your list of things to do in Singapore but it was a fun day nonetheless.

Singapore Universal Studios Collage

In the evening, some of our friends who are living in Singapore, took us out for Chili Crab – it is one of Singapores’ most famous dishes and its delicious! After you messily devour the crab (thankfully, they give you bibs!), you can ask for rolls to dip in the sauce – so good! (we do not have any pictures of us eating chili crab because our hands were too messy to operate a camera – so we just dug in and enjoyed it and skipped the picture!). Be sure and try both Chili and Pepper Crab if you find yourself lucky enough to be in Singapore!

Jumbo Chili Crab

Afterwards, we went to the famous Raffles Hotel which is a historic and beautiful hotel where the fruity drink, the Singapore Sling, was invented. We indulged ourselves at the Long Bar with a classic Singapore Sling for each of us (shock factor, they are about S$18 each!) and had fun in the lively bar area watching the bar tenders make glass upon glass of Singapore Slings (apparently we weren’t the only ones that got the memo that you should stop by there to try it!).

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We decided to walk back to the Marina Bay Sands on our last night and ended up stumbling upon some random art exhibits on the walking path. One of the coolest exhibits was a cloud that was raining – when you walked through it, the water would stop in the area where you were standing. It was really cool because you could stand in the middle and it would be raining all around you but not a drop would get on you. One of our favorite things about traveling is when you spontaneously find fun/interesting things that you didn’t expect…this was one of those instances!

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We also caught the laser light show just in time! What a great ending to a great week!

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 All in all, we really enjoyed the few days that we spent in Singapore – we stayed busy exploring the city, ate some amazing food, and also had some time to relax (with a stellar view on the 57th floor overlooking the incredible city!). I really hope that you get to visit there some day to see all that Singapore has to offer!

Napier – Art Deco Capital of New Zealand

The last stop on our New Zealand trip was Napier, which is a town on the eastern coast of the North Island. After an earthquake in 1931 wiped out most of the city, they decided to rebuild it in the Art Deco style so it’s a unique and interesting town to walk around. The buildings have so much character and we really enjoyed checking them all out – many of them are in the art deco style, some were extra colorful, and all were lively and fun to admire.

Napier Collage

After walking around town a bit, we went out to see the nearby coast while the weather was nice. We quickly noticed a sign for roller blade rentals – we had recently been joking about how we wished we could try roller blading again because we both had loved it as kids. And there, right in front of us, was our chance so we went for it – it’s not every day you get the opportunity to relive your youth, right?! I have to admit, it was not as easy as I remember it being when I was little but we had a blast nonetheless and spent the afternoon roller blading along the trail by the beach!

Rollerblading in Napier

Our hotel, the Art Deco Masonic Hotel, was one of my favorite buildings – it certainly had the charm from the 1920′s on the exterior as well as the interior…I loved that they had taken efforts to preserve such a fun era! Our first night there, we ended up playing trivia in the bar below the hotel  - we formed a team with another one of the locals and had a great time! Travel Tip – We always try to find local activities to do to learn a bit more about what life is really like in those locations beyond the big touristy sights. We find it often leads to some of the more unforgettable memories from our trips. If you ask around, you can usually find some fun things to do that way, and maybe even some locals to join in!

Art Deco Masonic Hotel Collage

The next day, we rented bikes and visited many Gimblett Gravels wineries in Hawke’s Bay. The best part about this was that a lot of the wineries were small, family owned businesses, so we had a chance to talk to the owners while they explained more about their wines – it’s fun to get to know the face behind the wine so we usually ended up buying a bottle after the tasting, put it in the baskets on our bikes and continued on our journey. Some of them had great food platters, too, so we enjoyed olives, fresh breads/oils, and salami & cheeses. It was such a wonderful day! (Unfortunately we didn’t have our camera that day so we didn’t get too many pictures…we’ll just have to take more next time we go!).

Napier Wine Tasting Collage

Sadly, this brought our vacation to an end…it was such an incredible adventure! We loved every minute that we got to spend in New Zealand hope to return one day!

Air New Zealand

Living Large in Rotorua!

Our next stop on our New Zealand vacation was the town of Rotorua. We had heard from several of our friends that this was quite the hot spot for adventure. We got there a bit late in the evening, so we checked into our wonderful little hotel and then went for a quick look at the nearby Redwood Forest. The trees were giant!

Redwood Forest NZ CollageWith a full day of fun ahead of us, we woke up early the next day to check out one of the thermal parks. Rotorua is known for being one of the few places in the world with a high concentration of thermal activity. We knew we had made it when the smell of sulfur overcame us – we walked around and saw the colorful thermal pools, including quite a few of the bubbling mud pools.

Rotorua Thermal CollageEvery day in the morning, the geyser in the park erupts so we went that direction to get a good spot to watch. At first I was skeptical that the geyser erupts on such a strict schedule – nothing in nature operates that way. The park ranger walked up and put in some soap to stimulate the eruption, mimicking the way it was found many years ago when people accidentally put some soap in there when going to wash their clothes. So we were right – it’s not naturally that predictable but it was still impressive!

Rotorua Geyser Collage

After a wonderful morning exploring the thermal parks that we couldn’t jump in, we went off for an adventure where we could, called the Squeeze. It combined a Riverjet ride with a walk to some natural hot springs – I know, sounds like the most perfect trip ever…and it was!! We had an absolute blast! The jetboat is a NZ invention – it is basically a water ski in boat form. It is incredibly fast and can do also turn on a dime, so they do plenty of 360 spins during your trip. The icing on the cake is that the scenery around you is to die for!

NZ Riverjet View

After a beautiful ride along the river, our driver told us to get out. So we jumped out of the boat and started following him up onto the banks where we followed the shallow river inland – the longer we walked, the warmer the water became. We also came upon some skinny, mossy passageways that we had to maneuver through – SO COOL! At the very end was a natural hot springs waterfall. Our pictures didn’t come out all that great, but you’ll get the idea even with the blurry photos – it was incredible!

Squeeze Collage

We spent a little while soaking in the pools before heading back for another wild ride on the river. It was an amazing day!

NZ Riverjet Ride 2On our last day in Rotorua, we did separate activities in the morning – Ryan went running/hiking and I went to Hobbiton (which was so awesome I think it deserves its own post so stay tuned!) and then in the afternoon we went mountain biking at this really great park in the Redwood Forest. Ryan has gotten really into mountain biking while living here in Korea and I’m always up for trying new things so we rented bikes and helmets and headed out onto the trails. It was raining, but that didn’t stop us from having a great time! I had a couple of falls but Ryan was always there right away to help get me back on my bike. With this, we fulfilled our mission to go hard in Rotorua!

NZ Mountain BikingThat evening, we got ready for our last activity in Rotorua – this time one where we could learn more about the fascinating Maori culture. The Maoris are the native people that originally settled New Zealand. You may have seen the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby team perform the Haka before – this is a Maori tradition. We got to see it performed by some of the Maoris still living in New Zealand – it contained all of the intimidating tongue showing which we did with the chief before heading to dinner. Dinner was a feast cooked in an underground oven and was delicious!

Maori Feast Collage

Just before we left, they took us to one of their sacred springs which has glow worms in it….these little critters were really bright and a really neat sight to see! The Maori feast and performance was the perfect ending of our time in Rotorua – a few days full of adventure and culture…just the way we like to vacation!

Halong Bay Cruise Fun: Days 2 & 3

After a great first day, we woke up the next day ready to go to the Fishing Village in the morning. We got in a boat where a Vietnamese woman took us around the village – they also gave us the fantastic hats to wear the whole time which made it even more awesome. Our guide told us that some of the children that grow up here don’t see land until they are teenagers and go into town for things with their parents. It was pretty incredible that they have a fully functioning society that has never set foot on land – it seems so foreign to me but they probably think I’m a bit crazy for not being a strong swimmer…we all have our own perspective.

Halong Bay Fishing Village

The scenery in this area was particularly beautiful and the people were full of smiles!

Fishing Village All Smiles

We got back for some more food, a quick nap and then we headed over to an area for some more sea kayaking. This spot was even more beautiful than the first.

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Look closely…those tiny specs are sea kayakers – shows you just how grand the scenery is here!

What made this trip incredibly cool was that we went kayaking through some caves and in some cases had to lay down in the canoe to paddle because the cave ceiling was just above the water. The guide took us through the caves and into this really cool little alcove that was only accessible through the caves – it was awesome! I’ve always wanted to do that so it was certainly a wonderful experience.

Sea Kayaking through Caves HLB

Afterwards, we took turns jumping off the boat into the water – it was so much fun…couldn’t have been in a more beautiful place!

Jumping off the boat in HLB

One of our favorite parts of the cruise was getting to know some of the people working there. On our last night, as the sun was setting, we took advantage of happy hour at the bar and played bar games with the bartenders.

Sunset in HLB

They gave us some bar challenges to solve using cups and cards – the guys loved these and Ryan solved one of them, earning himself a free beer! I couldn’t have been more proud.

HLB Bar Games Collage

The bar tender also told us that he could read minds – Kim was skeptical at first but he chose her card so we weren’t so sure what to think after that.

Kim's Mind Being Read

Left: Our guide reading Kim’s mind; Right: Kim’s reaction when he picked the right card

On our last day, we explored the Surprise Cave. It was full of tourists but it was certainly an interesting stop and had a neat view of Halong Bay upon exiting the cave.

Surprise Cave

And so ended our amazing cruise in Halong Bay. We said goodbye to the crew and headed back for a bit more time in Hanoi. If you’re thinking about vacating in Southeast Asia, be sure to put Halong Bay on your list of places to visit…we found it to be both relaxing and fun and wish we could go back and do it all again!

Our new friends made the cruise even better and stumped us with a few bar challenges!
Our new friends made the cruise even better and made sure this experience was one we would always remember! 

FB: Getting Weighed by Cheese Weighers Guild

Ryan and I went on what we call our “Engagement-Moon” because we went on this trip right after we got engaged…the idea behind the trip was to visit the countries associated with my dad’s side of the family. My dad’s family is Italian and Dutch so we headed to those two hot spots for a week. We had an absolute blast and I will share more of these stories later, but for now, I will share one of my favorites – the time we were weighed by the Cheese Weighers Guild. We got to the Alkmaar Cheese Market and the teams of guild members were competing to weigh the cheese quicker than the other teams – each team had a different colored hat on so we decided to cheer for the Green Team. It was high energy – they were grabbing the cheese, putting the cheese on the cheese carrying sleigh, and heading over to the cheese scales as fast as they could to get their cheese weighed and then they would run back out and start again….in case you can’t tell, they really like cheese.

Cheese Market

Cheese Weighers Guild

Line for Cheese Scales

At the end, Ryan and I were weighed by them on one of the big cheese scales – they even gave us their hats so that we looked legit.

Weighed by Cheese Guild

Before leaving, we also tried on some wooden shoes – they were a bit hard to walk in because apparently they were using the one size fits all approach…

Wooden Shoes

If you’re heading to Amsterdam, this is a fun day trip to take – it’s a unique experience and perfect for a nice day! Don’t forget to try some of the cheese around, too – it’s amazing!

Korean Wedding

One of our Korean friends was getting married and he invited Ryan and I to attend. I was incredibly excited because I love weddings and  thought this would be fun to celebrate with our friend! The invitation was to a wedding hall in the next town over and the guys had given us a map to help us find it. The wedding hall had several different spots for many couples to get married in one day so it was buzzing with a lot of people when we got there. As soon as we got in, the groom (our friend, Ted) was waiting there to greet everyone – he was all dressed up and you could tell he was very excited!

Us with the Groom

Ryan and I with our friends Yang and Ted

Before we walked into the wedding room for their ceremony, you passed a room that is set up so that people can take pictures with the bride. We took the opportunity to take a picture of us, some of our co-workers and the beautiful bride.

Us with the Bride

The wedding ceremony started and of course it was all in Korean so it was a bit hard for us to understand what was going on, but there was an MC on a microphone who commentated on the ceremony the whole time which was different than what we had seen at any of the weddings we had been to in the US. The groom came out and gave a speech to everyone and they had friends/family play musical instruments and then they said their vows. At least that was what I gathered was going on with my limited knowledge of the Korean language.  (Sorry the picture is a little blurry – it was dark in the wedding hall, but it’s a good picture to show how dramatic the wedding hall was).

Bride and Groom

 Afterwards, we quickly went to an area outside where they “the after party.” Everyone lined up as the bride and groom walked in – music was playing and people threw rose petals at them – then they danced for a few minutes, rang a bell, and then they left for the next part of the ceremony.

Korean Wedding After Party The next part of the ceremony was the traditional portion and our friend Ted was nice enough to invite us because he thought it would be a good cultural experience for us. Only his immediate family was in the room with them and then we sat outside. They had changed into traditional outfits and then sat at the table with their family around them. Each side of the family came and gave words of wisdom to the bride and groom. They also threw things into the fabric between the bride and groom and they told us the number caught are the numbers of children they will have. The bride and groom served tea to their family and they all drank together. It was a very nice, quiet ceremony and I’m so glad we got to be there for it. I love weddings and learning more about other peoples’ culture so it was perfect.

Korean Traditional WeddingAfter the weddings, we went downstairs to the buffet that was open for all the guests. It was such a fun event – I’m so glad we were able to be apart of it!

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.

Gangnam Style

I’ll make this post short and sweet because a video is worth more than a thousand words. If you want to get a little taste of Korea, check out the hottest song/video in Korea currently:

It’s actually quite catchy…if you’re wondering what Gangnam is – it’s a district in Seoul – a city we are very fond of.

Enjoy your little dose of Korean culture for the day! :)

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