Tag Archives: Temple

Gyeongju Cherry Blossom Race

Spring in Korea is a really beautiful time of year! There are so many flowers that come out in bloom and the weather is usually starting to get nice and warm. Given that Ryan and I have both gotten even more interested in running since we moved here, we went ahead and signed up for the Cherry Blossom Marathon Race. Ryan did the half marathon, I did the 10k, and we recruited a couple of friends to come and do the 10k as well. The race was towards the end of the cherry blossom season, but we were still able to catch some glimpses of some remaining flowers.

Cherry Blossoms

What made the weekend even more fun was the area that it was in: Gyeonju – the old capital of the kingdom of Silla which ruled a majority of Korea for period of time. It also has several UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are also considered Korean National Treasures. We had heard from some of our Korean friends that this is their favorite part of Korea so we were excited to check it out. It’s about a 3.5 hour drive, so we started our road trip right after work on Friday night. When we finally made it there, the owner of the pension house (comparable to a bed and breakfast without the free breakfast) where we were staying came running out saying “Kendrick, Kendrick!” She was apparently very excited that we were finally here. She took us up to our room and then sat down with us to show us how to get to the race and what sights she recommended seeing while we were here. We headed straight to bed because we were absolutely exhausted – it was a typical Korean bed which feels like sleeping on the floor; however, we were both so tired that we slept like babies. The other aspects that made it very uniquely Korean were the brightly colored decorations and then the bathroom that has one drain in the middle of the room for all water to drain down; there is no separate shower or divider for that part of the bathroom…it basically means that your entire bathroom is wet all the time which is not what we’re used to but it works. The next morning, the owner came back into our room bright an early to bring us the breakfast of champions in preparation for running.

Gyeonju Pension House

After getting stuck in some traffic and delayed picking up our shirts/numbers, we were finally ready to start. The races are funny because they have a gun shot to announce the run and it is followed by fireworks and streamers and then everyone starts running. The weather was nice and sunny and we all had a great run! After the race, there were a lot of festivities (I wish I had taken pictures of this but my camera was in the car because I didn’t take it running with me) which included some free food and drinks and TONS of Korean people (and a few foreigners) around – they had tea boiled eggs, bananas, beer, and a big barrel of makgeolli (Korean rice wine). It’s a really fun experience and we’ve loved doing races in Korea – we’ll certainly do some more while we are here.

Cherry Blossom Marathon Group 2013

After the race, we all grabbed lunch together and the girls headed back to Geoje and Ryan and I took the afternoon to do a bit of sight seeing around the area. It’s nice to learn a little more about the country you are living and this was a wonderful place to do it. The first stop was the Bulguksa Temple which is a Buddhist temple on a pretty mountainside with a very long history – the temple starting being built int he early 500s and then the rest of it was built in the mid 700s. Sadly, it was burned down by the Japanese and they had to rebuild it – unfortunately, this is a common story in Korea and they make sure to point it out any time possible. That’s one thing about traveling around Asia that is so different from the US – many of the historical sites here are from hundreds of years earlier than anything in the US; definitely changes your perspective a bit.

Bulguksa Temple

Bulguksa Temple 2

Bulguksa Temple Door Handle

Bulguksa Temple Plaque

Bulguksa Temple Erin & Ryan

Then, we went to the Seokguram Grotto which is a bit of a drive away from the main area of the Bulguksa Temple and then you have to hike up to the Grotto. They don’t let you take pictures of the actual Buddha inside, but it was a cool statue and the view from on top was great.

View from Grotto in Gyeonju

View from Seokguram Grotto

We really enjoyed our time in Gyeonju – it is certainly one of our favorite spots in Korea. There are some other things that we wanted to see but we weren’t able to see them this time so we’ll just have to go back so we can check it out!

 

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!

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!

Northern Thailand – Chiang Mai

I had always heard great things about Chiang Mai and so I definitely wanted to make it a stop on our trip. The first day, we went ziplining up in the jungle. It was awesome!

The next day, we decided to explore the city so we had the concierge draw us a good map of the best temples (there are over 300 in Chiang Mai) and then we walked that route. We also did a little shopping and of course grabbed some great food. To top it all off, we got a hour long Thai massage for $7 – can you believe it?!

We also rode in our first Tuk-Tuk which was really fun!

That evening, we decided to sneak into one of the custom tailors that we were seeing everywhere and see if it was worth a try. They said they could do 4 custom button-up shirts for us in 24 hours for a really good price so we got measured and picked out the fabrics.

Afterwards, we had a great dinner on the river and then bought a lantern and released it on the way home. I had always wanted to do this in Thailand so it was just awesome!

The next day, we went to the Baanchang Elephant Park and spent the day with the elephants. It was such an incredible day! One of the interesting things about this park is that all of the elephants are rescued (from tourist companies that don’t take good care of them, the logging industry, etc.) and each elephant has a Mahout that takes care of them. You can tell that they have quite a bond with each other.

First, they had you change into some Mahout clothes (which turned out to be a good idea because we definitely got messy) and then we got to feed all the elephants bunches and bunches of bananas.

After that, they taught us a few basic commands which we practiced – up, forward, right, left, and down. It was SOOOO cool!

Then we went on an hour long ride through the jungle – we were riding bareback on these elephants which was quite an experience! They had given us the largest elephant, too, so he constantly tried to eat during our ride. :)

Finally, we walked them over to the pond and got to give them a bath which was really great and super fun, especially because he kept spraying us. :)

That night, we went out for dinner and also checked out the Night Bazaar. We picked up our custom shirts – which turned out really nice and got some mango and sticky rice (we were seriously addicted!). Then we headed back to the hotel to rest up because we were heading to Phuket the next morning.

Chiang Mai was one of those places that we realized very quickly that we did not want this to be the last time that we visited – it’s such a great city with beautiful scenery, extremely nice people, and a very relaxed vibe. We just loved it! I hope we head there again sometime soon! If you’re thinking of going to Thailand, make sure to include a stop in Chiang Mai!

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.

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