Tag Archives: Food

Good ‘ole Scotland!

I am extremely proud to say that I am half British and my very first tastes of travel were going to the UK to visit my mom’s side of the family. My mom and dad got me a passport when I was a baby and took me to England & Scotland to spend time with my Gran and Grandad. I have not been back to visit their house since I was 12 – over half my life has now passed without going back. I really wanted to visit my Gran and Uncle Barry so we bought plane tickets to go (thank goodness for frequent flyer miles!). Ryan and I have both been to England and Scotland in the past but never together so we were looking forward to exploring the area as a pair.

The road to Scotland is much longer coming from Korea – it was over 30 hours of travel time but it was well worth it. We took the bus-flight-flight-underground-hotel-flight-car route to get to my Gran’s. We took our first flight from Seoul (after the first bus ride from Geoje) and ended up in Glasgow…we made a pit stop in Germany, taking advantage of the access to delicious German wheat beers while in the airport, and then spent the night in London before catching our flight to Glasgow. On the underground on the way to the hotel to stay overnight, it struck us that everyone around us was speaking our native language. This may sound odd, but this was our first time in an English speaking country in almost a year – it was weird that this made us feel out of place and we had to remind ourselves that everyone could understand what we were saying.

Ryan with German Beer

Once in Glasgow, we were up for our first big milestone – Ryan’s first time driving on the left side of the road. This may not sound like that big of a deal, but it’s probably because you’ve never done it…it is a truly bizarre experience and borderline terrifying while driving on tiny and windy Scottish roads. Ryan was a pro in no time and we made it safely to my Gran’s house.

Ryan Driving on Left

As soon as we got there, we were greeted by my Gran, Uncle Barry, and our friend Linda. It was SO great to see them! We gave big hugs all around and had tea together. It was so nice to be together and enjoy each others’ company. Gran made us a delicious salmon dinner and we relaxed and caught up. After dinner, my uncle took us to his chiropractic clinic which is also complete with a Kung Fu studio where we got to sit in on one of his classes….totally cool!

Uncle Barry Kung Fu

The next day, we took a trip down to Saltcoats which is a little town on the coast. When I was younger, my Grandad used to take my brother, sister, and I there so it brought back good memories to walk around.

Gran and Erin Saltcoats Beach

Saltcoats

Saltcoats, Scotland

Afterwards, we went out to a very cute bakery/restaurant where we had a wonderful lunch. It included a black cherry shortbread dessert that Ryan is still talking about to this day. On the way home, we stopped by the grocery store to pick up some ingredients for dinner. I had been looking forward to cooking for Gran and Uncle Barry and was planning to make Thai Pineapple Curry which is our favorite. This was the first time in almost a year that were in a place where we could read all of the signs and food labels – it was amazing!! They also had all kinds of goodies that we can’t get in Korea so it was great to explore a little bit and soak in the familiar language and flavors. We made dinner that night and hung out which was a ton of fun.

Black Cherry Delicious!

The next day, we took a trip to Glasgow and spent some time walking around the city. We went to a Glasgow Cathedral (formerly called St. Mungo’s Cathedral), hiked up to the old cemetery on the hill behind it (called Glasgow Necropolis), and saw the oldest house in Glasgow (Provand’s Lordship) which was built in 1471. We also stopped for our first British pub meal – fish & chips, haggis, and cask ale. It was really delicious! 

Glasgow Collage 2

Glasgow Beer Meal

First British Pub meal together in the UK!

On the way home, we stopped by this huge wind farm: Whitelee Wind Farm. We really enjoyed looking around the museum (I even got to hold an owl!) and looking at the wind turbines…very cool, particularly for two engineers. 

Glasgow Wind Farm

We had another great dinner cooked by my Gran and talked about our family history which is always interesting. Naturally, I am a descendant of royalty way back when which is pretty cool. The next couple of days, we went up to the Scottish Highlands. On our last night in Scotland, my Uncle Barry took us out for a really delicious dinner. He asked us what our favorite part of our visit was and I told him it was vising with them – my Gran and Uncle Barry – and I meant it! It was truly great to get to spend time with them because I haven’t seen them nearly as much as I would have liked in the past. It was a wonderful visit to Scotland and we can’t wait to go back to visit them again.

Fam at Dinner in Scotland

Tokyo Girls Weekend

One of my best friends was traveling to Indonesia for work and since we hadn’t seen each other for a year, we decided to meet up in Tokyo for a girls weekend! I never thought that I would be living the kind of life where I would meet my friend in Japan for a quick weekend trip, but life gives you all kinds of unexpected surprises so it’s best to enjoy it! I flew in on Saturday and hopped on the train to meet Kim at the hotel. It was so great to see her – after a big hug we both realized it was already just like old times…we were ready to hang out and have a weekend full of laughs. We had already made reservations at a sushi restaurant that was highly recommended by our friends, called Kubei. We got there a little early and grabbed a cup of tea in this really cute Japanese courtyard.

Once we found the restaurant, we knew immediately that we were going to love this! It was a small restaurant and there were several sushi chefs behind the sushi bar ready to make our night awesome! We ordered the Chef Selection of Sushi and they started bringing out various different kinds of sushi. It was TO.DIE.FOR. Our absolute favorites were the tuna ones – they were incredible…the flavors were amazing and the fish just melted in your mouth. It was quite possibly the best meal of my life.

Quite possibly the best meal of our lives!

Kubei Sushi in Tokyo

Afterwards, we decided to find some dessert around Roppongi. We found a spot on the map that had some of the desserts with black sesame paste which we both love. It was a bit out of the way in this cute area of the city so we walked around looking for it for a little while. One of the funniest moments was when we walked up to two girls to ask for help finding it and they didn’t speak English, so we tried communicating for some time and then she shouted, “Oh! Google Maps!” and used her phone app to try and help us find our way. In the end, we couldn’t find this little spot so we popped into a small grocery store and grabbed some ice cream. It turned out to be a great end to the evening.

Green Tea Ice Cream

Green Tea Ice Cream

The next day was the first full day that we had in Tokyo so we took full advantage of it. We headed over to the Meiji Shrine, which was really neat.  It was a very peaceful area – it’s in Tokyo but it doesn’t feel like it’s in a city because there are a lot of trees around which is nice to feel relaxed in a hustling, bustling city. Before we went in, we followed the traditional custom of cleansing with the water fountain that is just outside the entrance.

Meiji Shrine

Meiji Shrine

What made it even more special was the fact that there was a wedding going on…I don’t know what it is about weddings but I absolutely love them – particularly in different countries; Japan was no exception – they sure know how to look elegant. It was even complete with a built in wardrobe change – she had a beautiful red dress covering her white wedding outfit below.

Japanese Wedding

Japanese Wedding

On the way back, we walked around Harajuku Street. I had heard of “Harajuku girls” but I never really knew what it was until I walked down this street – the fashionistas (and male version of that) were out in full force! Lots of color and crazy outfits – definitely an experience worth having if you’re in the area.

Harajuku Girls

Then we headed to the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa – the walkway up to the temple was my favorite part. We  tried lots of different goodies from the stalls lining the walk to the temple. We also got our fortunes by shaking a stick out of the box and then finding which fortune it corresponded with. I got a bad fortune so I tied it to the wires in the temple with the other bad fortunes in hopes that it would not come true.

Sensoji Temple

Sensoji Temple

There are some aspects to Japanese culture that are hard to put into words – here is a good example: there was a guy on the street who was walking a goggle wearing dog that was being ridden by a monkey – totally random…the picture is proof that we actually saw this…so crazy. We also spent some time wandering around the area shopping and then found a great tea shop to hang out in for a bit (we had been walking all day and our feet needed a little rest). Then, we wandered around to find a nice place for dinner. We happened upon a yakitori place where we grabbed some food and ended another great day in Japan.

Crazy Dog/Monkey, Goofy Sunglasses, Delicious Green Tea

Crazy Dog/Monkey, Goofy Sunglasses, Delicious Green Tea

The next morning, we were up at 3:30 AM and in a cab heading to the Tsukiji Fish Market to go to the tuna auction early in the morning. They only let in 120 people each morning to see the tuna auction which starts at 5:45 AM, so to secure a spot, you have to get there super early. We got there about 4 AM and made it into the first tour group. They lead you into the auction area and you see all of the tuna – they are giant! There are no frills about this endeavor – it is just huge frozen tuna on wooden crates. Each fish munger goes around and checks out each fish to determine what he wants to bid on and how much he would be willing to pay. They have flashlights to see the color, and they also use tools to take pieces off the tail to feel how good it is. Then, the bell rings and they start the bidding. They start with a high bid and slowly go down until someone bids on it (opposite of all auction houses I have been to in the US) so it goes really quickly. It was really fun to watch and we couldn’t get over how ridiculously large these fish were! We also loved being at the market during this time of the day because there is so much activity with everyone getting set up to start the day. It was a really great experience that you won’t get anywhere else so it was worth the early morning wake up call.

Tuna Auction

Tuna Auction

Afterwards, we went to a 24 hour sushi diner and had some sushi for breakfast. I never thought I would eat sushi for breakfast but I couldn’t get enough of the incredible sushi – it was all so good! It was the perfect way to end our fantastic girls weekend in Tokyo! :)

Our very own sushi chef at the sushi diner!

Our very own sushi chef at the sushi diner!

Ryan’s Parents Visit: Weekend in Seoul

We had been excited for some time to have Ryan’s parents come out to visit us and it was finally here! One of the most fun parts about it all was that this was their first trip to Asia so there were a lot of first times to be experienced and we couldn’t wait to do that with them! We went to pick them up at the airport – we had signs and everything (I wish I had snagged a picture but I assure you they were cute) and we were so happy to see them! We drove back to our apartment and CeCe and Tim were asking about whether we got snow here or not. Ryan and I told them that it is a very rare occasion on Geoje island, but sure enough, we woke up to several inches of snow on the ground!
View from our front & back windows in our apartment on the snowy morning

View from our front & back windows in our apartment on the snowy morning

As cool and crazy as this was, it complicated our weekend plans a bit because we needed to drive to Busan but we made it there in the end with no worries. We had a few hours to kill until our train, so we got some dinner at a Pho place…this was another first for Ryan’s parents because they had never had Vietnamese food. We took the high speed KTX Train or as Ryan and I call it, the Seoul Train! (to the tune of the song Soul Train - get it?! We’re so clever. ;) . We got on the train to Seoul and of course, I was asleep in minutes (if you’ve read the posts about our trip to Japan, trains lull me to sleep in no time) and woke up once we got there. We maneuvered the subway and made our way to our hotel so that we could get some rest before our early morning trip to the DMZ in the morning. We got up early to head to Camp Kim for the USO DMZ Tour (we have done this before and really wanted to go again with Ryan’s parents). The funny thing about Korea is that there are no restaurants open early – 8 AM is a stretch and most don’t open until  9 AM. No worries on a normal vacation day, but we had to be there ready to go by 7 AM, so we had no choice but to grab some breakfast munchies at the corner store – yet another unique Korean experience. The DMZ tour was great as usual…we all had a wonderful time and can now say that we have stepped foot in North Korea TWICE!
In the JSA on the North Korean side of the building

In the JSA on the North Korean side of the building

The DMZ Tour is almost an all day affair, so we went back to the hotel to rest up;  Tim was still feeling really jetlagged so he continued to rest up and the 3 of us went out to dinner in Itaewon. This is one of our all time favorite spots in Seoul and one of the main reasons we love this city so much. This is the international area and has lots of wonderful restaurants and a great energy about it – it’s a really neat mix of expats and Koreans which is fun. We found a Spanish restaurant – this was another first for Ryan’s mom. Who would have thought that she would try Spanish food for the first time in Korea?! We had some great food and wonderful Sangria!! Then, we hit up an Irish pub for some beers – great end to a wonderful day.
Delicious Spanish food & Sangria in Itaewon!

Delicious Spanish food & Sangria in Itaewon!

The next day, we went back to Itaewon in the morning to go to a breakfast restaurant. Going out to breakfast in the states was one of our favorite things to do and we don’t get the chance very often here in Korea so we took advantage of doing this as a family here. Once we were fully satisfied with eggs benedict and breakfast burritos, we went to one of the palaces.
We walked around the Gyeongbokgung Palace which is the largest palace of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty. According to the guide books, it’s the best palace to visit if you only have time for one. We had a really nice walk around and then ventured back to the train station to catch a train back to Busan.
Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Two Mrs. Kendricks in Seoul

Two Mrs. Kendricks in Seoul

Gyeongbokgung Palace with Guards

Gyeongbokgung Palace with Guards

We were so happy that we were able to make it up to Seoul to explore and we had such a great weekend!

Cambodia!

Cambodia had been on my bucket list for the past few years because I had seen a lot of great pictures of Angkor Wat and I thought it would be really cool to explore these temples – I was right! It was a great stop on our vacation…we absolutely loved our time in Cambodia! We arrived in the evening into the Siem Reap airport and were picked up by a driver from our hotel – the hotel** that I booked for us was outside of the main city area within one of the villages. We drove through many back roads to get there and I really got the feel that this was a third world country – there were a lot of small houses/huts and little businesses being run out of the front of their home. We pulled up to our hotel and fell in love with it immediately. It had gorgeous grounds, including a great pool and they hire and train people from the local village which we thought was really cool. The people there were the friendliest people that I have ever met in my life.  The hotel was also very environmentally conscious, which we loved; they used renewable materials, locally sourced food, and solar panels to make the hot water. We grabbed an absolutely delicious dinner at the hotel restaurant and called it an early night.

We had asked the front desk to have a Tuk-Tuk ready for us first thing in the morning to take us to the main temple areas. This tuk-tuk was great – it was so nice to be out in the open air and he got us everywhere pretty quickly. Before we could go anywhere, we needed to go to the ATM to get some money and we were surprised when US dollar bills came out – this is what they use as their currency…in fact, most places couldn’t even give us any of the Cambodian Riels because they didn’t have any.

The view on our Tuk-Tuk driving us all around Cambodia

The view on our Tuk-Tuk driving us all around Cambodia

The first stop of the day was Angkor Wat which was awesome! The best part about all of the temples is that you can climb all over all of them – it really makes you feel like Indiana Jones which is so much fun!

We saw quite a few monkeys hanging around…many of them finding left over fruits or soda and chowing down – they’re hard to catch in pictures but we got a couple fun shots!

We also grabbed coconuts which are one of the most refreshing and delicious things I’ve ever had…we had a lot of these in Thailand and they were just as good in Cambodia. They taste much better than the coconuts in North America…something about Southeast Asia really makes them fantastic!  The people selling them literally just cut the top off of the coconut and put a straw in so it is super fresh…and super delicious.

After that, our driver took us to Ta Prohm which is the temple where all of the roots of the trees are growing within the temple walls…it’s just awesome! It’s also where the movie “Tomb Raider” with Angelina Jolie was filmed so you may recognize it from there.  It’s exactly like the “lost temples” you imagine in the middle of the jungle, just not lost.


He then took us to lunch and then over to Bayon Temple which was our favorite of the day. It has a Buddha face on the North, South, East, and West side of each column. It was really great!  We tried to talk to the Buddha faces, but they don’t talk back like in “Legends of the Hidden Temple”…shucks.

The temples attract not only tourists but also Buddhist monks. It was really neat to see so many of them in their bright orange robes out walking around.  I love this picture I got of one of them walking out of the temple!

We walked around the Angkor Thom area a little more and decided to call it a day as the storm clouds really started to roll in – it had a busy and fun day full of exploring!

The next day was Thanksgiving and we wanted to do something special to make this a really memorable day! I arranged for a sunrise bike ride to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise. We met our guide at 4:45 AM (VERY early especially for vacation but somehow we knew it would be worth it) and we began our bike ride. Since our hotel was out in the village area, we started riding through the back roads in the village in the pitch black night with only little flashlights on our bikes providing any light for us to see…very crazy! Ryan rode up next to me and said, “Did you ever think that we would be riding bikes in the dark through rural Cambodia??” and the answer was: “No…I definitely never thought that I would be doing this but I’m so happy to be having this experience together!” As we got onto the main roads, we saw lots of tourists in tuk-tuks and cars – they took the easy route but we were fully enjoying our morning exercise. :) We got there before the sunrise and realized quickly that the word about how cool this was had gotten out because there were quite a few tourists there. We found a spot to enjoy the view for a bit and as the sun started to peak over the temples, we headed down to the edge of the water to get some pictures of the reflection as well – it was absolutely breathtaking!

On the way back to our hotel, the local guide took us a different way home because he wanted to show us his village which was really nice. Everyone was waving at us and at one point, a group of kids started chasing after us yelling, “Hello! Hello!”It was a wonderful morning – probably one of my favorite travel memories of all time. As it was Thanksgiving, we spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool and enjoying the warm weather (we knew that we would be coming back to cold weather in Korea). We had a great dinner just the two of us and ended our first Thanksgiving abroad. :)

The pool area where we spent the rest of our Thanksgiving day relaxing…

The third day, we decided to take a trek out to some of the temples that were further away. The first one that we went to was Banteay Srei which is a red sandstone temple and the carvings are very well preserved.

We also went to a few other temples in the area which were a lot less crowded.

Banteay Samre

This was one of our favorite pictures – in the distance is a local woman walking to the temple with her dog.

On the ride there, we got a good look at what Cambodian life was really like. Our cab driver also told us a lot of stories about what it was like to grow up here in Cambodia…especially during the terrible times that they went through. It was really impressive how a country who has been through so much can be so kind to everyone and hopeful for a better future – they are so willing and eager to share their stories and anything that they have. It’s one of those life lessons that you will never forget because it changes the way you look at your life.

On our final day, we got our last bit of rest and relaxation before we prepared to go back to Korea (which also means back to stressful and crazy work). At the hotel’s spa, we had the greatest massage that we have ever had – it was a Khmer massage (Cambodian style…it was very similar to a Thai massage but not quite as intense)…it was awesome!

I also took a cooking class at our hotel which was absolutely awesome! One of the local villagers showed us their home – she showed us where they grow some of their veggies and then her kitchen where she makes  food for her entire family every day.

Then they took us to an open air pavilion where kitchen stations were set up for us to make our own meals. We made fresh spring rolls (which I now make ALL the time and absolutely adore them – so does Ryan!), Cambodian Curry (we even made the curry paste from scratch which was phenomenal) and finally, Nom Tong Noun for dessert (it’s kind of like a coconut cookie). All had the freshest ingredients and were absolutely to die for – I had a blast at the cooking class!

At the end of all, we had an absolutely magnificent trip and made some of the best memories ever! We will certainly never forget this trip and will hopefully be heading back this direction sometime in the future! :)

**If you want to stay at the same hotel as we did, it is called Sojourn Boutique Villa and we loved it!

Phuket, Thailand

Phuket! We had heard that it was paradise and we simply had to go! We spent the first afternoon going on a long run, relaxing by the pool, and then enjoying a nice dinner. The next day, we got up and spent the day at Kata Beach which is simply gorgeous. We took some fun pictures at night when the long boats came in to dock. :)

By the end of our beach day, we decided we wanted to try something exciting, so we booked ourselves a discovery scuba dive for the next day. This was going to be Ryan’s first time diving and my second and we wanted to test it out to see if we wanted to get certified sometime in the future. So…we headed out to sea and stopped at a smaller island called, Rachai Yai which was stunningly beautiful. The water was emerald and there were great sea creatures all around!

We did our first dive and then went around to another side of the island for our second dive. I have to admit I was a little nervous but I was feeling pretty good towards the end of our first dive and our second dive was great! Ryan was a pro and did awesome!!

When we got back on the boat, they served pancakes which were amazing and it was a great end to a wonderful day! Our dive instructor was awesome and even took a picture with us at the end of the day! She told us to act like we were under water…I don’t think she expected me to be such a goof ball because she couldn’t stop laughing, haha.

The next day we went on a speed boat tour to Ko Phi Phi. This tour was awesome – there were only 7 of us on the tour so it was really nice to have such a small group. The captain of the boat was really funny, too, because he told us his name was “Porn” but told us if we were uncomfortable calling him that, we could call him “Captain.”

We got to explore the beautiful islands of Ko Phi Phi and do a lot of snorkeling! It really was incredibly beautiful! There were lots of islands with big limestone cliffs and coves with crystal water…it was just awesome! They filmed the movie The Beach at Maya Bay which we had a chance to check out (unfortunately I don’t have any pictures because it’s super crowded so our boat dropped us off on the other side of the island so we could walk through and stand on the beach which was really fun – it required us swimming to the island, too which was pretty cool but took away any potential for us bringing our camera) but trust me, it’s gorgeous!! Google it if you don’t believe me. They also took us to a small cove to have lunch and we were the only people on the beach for a bit which was incredible! It truly felt like paradise! We did a bunch more snorkeling and then we headed back to Phuket.

In the evening, we decided to be brave and try the fish spa that we had passed in town a few times. These fish naturally eat dead skin so as soon as you put your feet in, they swarm to your legs and start nipping at your legs and feet – it tickled SO much!! I could barely stand it but we kept our feet in and our skin was so clean afterwards!! It was funny!

The next day, we headed to Cambodia…

Bangkok – Sight Seeing!

The next day, we went down to the water ferry to go to see a few of the famous Bangkok sights! The ferry is funny because you are crammed on there with lots of other people and then you travel down the river to various stops in the city. Traveling alongside you in the river are these river taxis that are long, slender boats that have a giant engine in them – very iconic Thailand.

We went out onto the front of the boat to take pictures and saw the Temple of Dawn which was really cool!

As we got off the boat on our way to Wat Pho (the Reclining Buddha), we passed several street vendors selling freshly squeezed juices and fruits. We got some fresh pomegranate juice and some fresh pineapple which were both delicious! We walked to Wat Pho, got our tickets and went to see the world famous Reclining Buddha. I don’t even know how to describe what I thought when I was there but something about it felt magical. It was so impressive – the big, gold statue was just so cool.

The feet were engraved with mother of pearl, too which was beautiful.

Afterwards, we walked over to The Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha. As we were walking in, they told us that we would not be able to go in if we were showing our knees. They had sarongs and pants for rent so Ryan and I rented a pair so we could go into the temples. These snazzy additions to our outfits certainly added to our pictures (see what I mean in the pic below?).

On our way back to the ferry, we passed some stalls selling food. I passed an older woman selling mango and sticky rice which is my absolute favorite! It was 50 Baht (about $1.60) and it was as fresh as it gets. She peeled the mango in front of me, pulled out some sticky rice, covered it coconut sauce and nuts and put it in a to go container. It was hands down the BEST mango and sticky rice I had ever had!

In the afternoon, we headed to the Chatauchack Weekend Market; it was about an hour away on the Sky Train which was a pretty awesome public transport system – complete with air conditioning which was very refreshing as Thailand is super hot and humid! The market is absolutely gigantic – it’s over 35 acres and it has anything you could possibly want. We spent quite a bit of time wandering around and found a few souvenirs that we liked. The best part of our afternoon was meeting up with Ryan’s friend, May. She is from Thailand and had worked with Ryan in Houston. We had the best luck because she was going home to see her family during the same time that we were there, so she met us at the market and then took us to her favorite restaurant. It was great to see her and to eat such delicious, authentic Thai food!! :)

The next day, we took it easy and walked around the city a bit and went to a great restaurant for dinner. It was called the Blue Elephant and the food was delicious!

Early the next morning, we headed up to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand…

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…

Summer Palace

On Sunday, we decided to go to the Summer Palace in the northwestern part of Beijing. We hopped on the metro (super convenient and crazy cheap) and headed there. As usual, it was extremely packed – over 58,000 people were expected to visit there that day. At the entrance, you could already see parts of the temple up on the hill – it was a stunning palace! We couldn’t wait to hike up to the top! It was nestled in the hill and there was a walk up to the top…it was a really neat hike because you were walking through rocks and really beautiful palace buildings!

First view of the Summer Palace

There was a waterway than ran in front and around the palace

A palace at the top of the hill – lots of green and yellow tiles!

At various spots along the walk around the palace, there were people who sat with a stack of cucumbers and would peel them for you for 1 Yuan (about 15 cents). My dad and I both love cucumbers, so we got some.

The view from the top – such a beautiful place!

This is another view from the top and it was a little hazy but you can see the water out on the distance…

Ryan & I at the Palace

The majority of the Palace is water so once you get to the top, you walk down to the huge lake below.  We grabbed some lunch and then decided to explore the water. There were a ton of boats on the lake – lots of paddle boats but I decided I wanted to go on the dragon shaped boats…this is China afterall! We got tickets and then got in line – we were first in line and made sure to keep it that way so we could get the best seats! Once our boat got there, we ran on the boat to get the seats with the best view. :)

We stopped at a little food stand by the water to grab some delicious noodles! Yum!

Dragon Boat!

My mom & dad on our dragon boat ride on the lake

The view from the lake – such a neat place!

Seventeen Arch Bridge

We decided it was time to head to our next destination for the day, so we got in line for the dragon boat back to where we had started. While in line,  the family in front of us turned around and were so excited to see Americans! The parents immediately started pushing their sons in our direction and they started speaking English to us to practice. This happened to us on several occasions but this one was particularly funny.  The proud look on their parents’ face was priceless…we were happy to leave a positive impression of Americans on them. :)

One of the other funny aspects about the trip was the fact that many Chinese people wore t-shirts that had English phrases on them – they were often phrased in a way that I would never say, but I guess they make sense….while in line, we saw this gem of a t-shirt phrase: “Think Less Stupid More.” – Great advice, haha.

We had been riding the subway quite a bit while in China but we never once were able to get a seat but on the way back from the Summer Palace, my mom and dad scored a seat!!

We took a detour on the way home from the Summer Palace to see the Olympic Stadium from the 2008 Summer Olympics and that was really neat. I spent my whole life wanting to be in the Olympics and it was really cool to see the place where the games took place.

The stadium was really crazy to see in person and Ryan walked around to see some of the US medal winners that were engraved on some of the stones in the area.

Swimming Results – Michael Phelps won gold in 2008 here in Beijing; it’s carved in stone as proof

On the walk back, we had another encounter where we noticed that people were obviously trying to take pictures of their son with us in the background. It was important to us that we are good ambassadors for the US and so we walked over to take a picture with the boy. They were so excited about it! As we did that, Ryan took a picture of the encounter.

That evening, we went to the Legend of Kung Fu show – it was action packed and an excellent end to a great Sunday in China!

The Legend of the Kung Fu Theatre

Cast from the show

To finish off the night, Ryan and I learned some Kung Fu…

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