Archive for ‘travel’

November 24, 2013

New York City Mother-Daughter Adventure [Day 1-3]

(A very very very belated post about our trip to New York City. I will be back-dating these posts later.)

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I know I probably haven’t mentioned it to many people, I have wanted to go to New York City for some time now. My favorite story of NYC that my parents tell me is of how they and some friends went to see the Phantom of the Opera when it opened on Broadway. With Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford. They went to a super fancy restaurant and took a limousine! That must have been amazing fun.

During my time in Japan, Japanese people would look at me in confusion when I told them that I, as an American in her mid-20’s, had never been to the Big Apple. An American who had never been to New York City? Surely something was wrong with that!

I was due to return to the USA in July, so I began plotting an epic “Welcome Back to America!” trip for myself. At first I thought of doing a road trip and hitting up a bunch of the big-name east coast cities… But who was I kidding? I don’t like road trips. I much prefer to fly.

I thought about going by myself, but… that just didn’t sound like fun. I have traveled by myself before (2 weeks in Thailand/Singapore) and I don’t mind it. Sometimes I actually prefer to explore places by myself, but traveling with a friend is always fun and you’re never lonely. I decided to ask my mom, who managed to get a substitute for a few of her yoga classes that she teaches. We were on! My mom and I have traveled together before and I must say we make fabulous traveling companions.

I bought the tickets in March, so waiting until July was so torturous!

On July 4th, I touched down in Chicago, slept a bit, recovered a bit, and re-packed. Went to a wedding in Indiana, worked at a 4th of July festival for my parents’ restaurant…

Day 1: Monday, July 8th 

We were on our way to New York City on Monday, July 8th at 6:50am. It was my first time flying with JetBlue Airlines, a known budget airline. After reading a few reviews and looking at the prices, I thought to myself, "How bad could it be?" And it wasn’t bad. At all. Not even in the slightest! They gave us legitimate snacks and there was even free cable on the screens. My mom and I distracted ourselves with a HGTV "Love It Or List It" marathon, which helped to pass the time more quickly than I expected.

We touched down around 10am. It was a gorgeous day, the first of many gorgeous days! After a little mix-up with our bags (we had intended to do carry-on only, but the overhead bins had filled up by the time we got on the plane), we got them from the carousel and were off to the trains.

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May 22, 2013

Lake Towada and Akita Adventure

A few weeks ago I received an message from Kimberly. She told me that one of the teachers at her school had invited her and a few ALT friends out to Lake Towada for some sightseeing.

Of course I said yes to that! I’d never really been to Lake Towada (only driven by it) and had always wanted to go. I don’t have a car here, so I am always relying on the kindness of people with cars who go places. Plus, who would turn down an opportunity to be chauffeured around by a Japanese person in Japan?

On Saturday, April 27th, Kimberly and I walked from our houses to her school, where her teacher was waiting for us. She had also invited our friend Evan, a fellow car-less ALT, and he was waiting for us there also.

We got on the road a little after 9am. Kimberly’s co-worker/teacher didn’t speak much English, but he tried very hard. Most times he would speak in Japanese and I would understand him, but other times not at all. That’s the way it goes! He even wrote down vocabulary words on a piece of paper. It was so cute. His name was F-sensei.

F-sensei explained that he likes to do this with ALTs once or twice a year for cultural exchange. He worries that ALTs just stay in Hirosaki (or their respective towns) and never see the sights of Aomori before returning to their home countries. This made sense, because Kimberly’s predecessor had never, according to Tori, done any sightseeing. They just stayed in Hirosaki every weekend and went to their church here. It’s a shame, really, because there are a lot of things to go and see elsewhere in Aomori.

The weather that day was pretty crappy, not going to lie. The rain had stopped for a bit in the morning, but there was no sun in sight. Clouds, clouds, clouds. As we drove up to the mountain, we were actually in a cloud. We walked across a large bridge overlooking a valley below.

We drove along the now-melted snow corridor on Mt. Hakkoda. Some of the walls were half the size they had been when I did the walk and onsen excursion. And yet, still impressive. It was a shame we could not see anything because of the clouds. I didn’t feel like taking too many pictures.

After passing through Mt. Hakkoda, we went down the switchback roads to Towada. We saw some old copper mines along the way. F-sensei told us that lots and lots of miners used to live in those parts. Now, most of the people are gone. But who knew there were so many copper deposits in northern Japan?

The drive through Hachimantai park along the Oirase stream was beautiful and featured many waterfalls. It reminded me so much of the drive along the Columbia River in Oregon.

When we got to Lake Towada, F-sensei asked us if we wanted to go to the other side by car or boat. By boat it would take an hour, by car 15 minutes. Even was really keen on the boat idea, so F-sensei just got out, ran over to the boat crew, and came back. He handed us all tickets for the ferry and told us to hurry since it was leaving soon. We rushed onto the boat and then realized that F-sensei would not be joining us. He would be staying with his car and driving.

We were all kind of amazed that he would pay for all of our tickets and then wait 45 minutes for us to arrive while we had the ferry experience. We felt kind of guilty. Going on the ferry was really fun despite the weather. It was cold and the visibility was terrible, but we were still able to enjoy the cruise very much.

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~My ticket~

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May 17, 2013

Tokyo April 2014 Part 2

And here is the second installment of my spring vacation in Tokyo!

Wednesday, April 10

No run this morning for me, as I was already pretty tired from yesterday’s travels. But I was looking forward to meeting Kanako for breakfast!

I left the house early so I would have time to walk to Omotesando from Harajuku. It’s not far at all and the streets were relatively quiet/empty because none of the shops were open that early. It’s quite different in Japan because most businesses don’t open until 9am or 10am. I waited in front of an Omotesando station exit for a while. Kanako was running a little late and I was still pretty early.

When she arrived, we went to the vegan café which was just around the corner: PURE Café. It all made sense when I saw that it was adjacent to an AVEDA beauty salon. A vegan/natural foods café would be perfect next to a salon.

The meal was one of the best I’d ever had in Tokyo. The atmosphere was awesome as well. There wasn’t any Japanese written on the walls or the huge menu board above the cash register counter. Everything was written in English. I sort of forgot that I was in Japan. It was a strange feeling indeed.

The food:

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Yes, I ordered 2 desserts because they were small and I couldn’t decide between the two. I loved the carrot cake (best I’d had in a very long time) and the chickpea Mont Blanc parfait was interesting. Don’t think I will be ordering it again, but I enjoyed it.

Truth to be told, I wanted to live in that café and eat there for every meal of every day. And spend some serious time in the salon next door, of course. However, my employer and my wallet would not have liked that very much.

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May 1, 2013

Tokyo April 2014 Part 1

My spring vacation! Last year I went to Kyoto with Aunt Jan and this year I decided to take a long, 8-day holiday in Tokyo! Needless to say, I had one of the best weeks ever. I’m going to divide the trip into two parts, but these posts will still be pretty long. :)

Friday, April 5th

I was leaving that very day and I hadn’t really packed yet. I had only set a few things aside and had dragged out my carryon-size suitcase from the closet, but that was it.

So… As you can imagine, I was pretty busy after work. I went to the gym, ate dinner, packed, and still had about 45-60 minutes to kill before it was time to head to the bus stop. Even with luggage, it takes me less than 10 minutes to walk to the Willer Express bus stop in front of the Hirosaki Best Western Hotel.

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I was not looking forward to the bus ride down to Tokyo, but it was the cheapest method of transportation. Round trip cost me around 10,000 yen (a little over $100). Compare that to a round trip shinkansen bullet train fare of about $330 or more. Can’t beat the price of the bus, really. And saving money on transportation meant that I could spend more on shopping in Tokyo (for my frugal conscience’s sake).

The more I thought about it, the more I was looking forward to getting a break from Aomori and seeing my Japanese host family and friends. And of course, warmer weather.

The bus ride was… Well… I’d rather not talk about it. I guess I‘ll call it a necessary evil. I bought a neck pillow, ear plugs, and an eye mask for the journey, but it didn’t seem to help much. I tried. I’m just not good with buses.

Saturday, April 6th

We arrived at least 30 minutes ahead of schedule at Shinjuku station. The weather was a little poor and spitting rain a bit. I had my trusty travel hoodie, so it was okay.

I took the Seibu-Shinjuku line from Shinjuku to Nogata, the closest station to my host family’s house. Koenji Station is also close, but Nogata is closer by about 5 minutes. Walking with my luggage, I got too hot along the way and had to peel off my layers. Two sweaters worth! Whew!

My host mom welcomed me with open arms and let me rest for a while. It was so nice to finally see her again after having been away for so long!

We (host mom, brother Shouta, and I) left by car to go to the Setagaya area of Tokyo, where they would be participating in an Awa-Odori event.

Awa-Odori is a traditional dance from Tokushima Prefecture on the island of Shikoku. My friend Zandra actually lives there now. In the neighborhood of Koenji, Awa-odori dance was started in 1956 by migrants from Tokushima prefecture. My host family has been in this “ren” (dance group) for years and years, even when my host mom was a child. She didn’t dance, but played an instrument.

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It says “Awa-Odori” on the lanterns.

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April 15, 2013

Disney Sea with Maiko

A long time ago, in a land far away from Japan, two roommates traveled by plane from Oregon to California. It was my first year of college and my roommate Maiko’s study abroad year at Lewis & Clark.

Together we went to visit my aunt and grandmother in Los Angeles and San Diego! It was April 2006, Spring Break. Needless to say, we had a blast! We went to Universal Studios, San Diego Wild Animal Park, and Disney Land. An amazingly fun weekend with family and theme parks!

Looking at these pictures makes me feel all nostalgic! We were 18 and 19 years old back then!

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So in continuation of these adventures…

When I went to Tokyo last week, Maiko offered to take the day off of work on Thursday (4/11/2013) so we could go to…

 

Tokyo Disney Sea!

 

It turned out that she had to be in a meeting that morning, but was able to take the afternoon off! I was so excited to be going to a theme park with her again! Plus, she had two free tickets that she had won at a raffle at a wedding. We were set!

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March 27, 2013

Concrete Plans

Many apologies for the lack of update lately! I can’t really blame it on work, because I haven’t taught any classes since February 28th. I guess it was mostly because of a lack of things to report on? Winter was winter-y. There was snow. Lots of snow.

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But I am happy to report that the weather is now heading towards spring-like! It is now in the 40s (F) and quite sunny today! I am now able to ride my bike to work safely. It is still cold, but I can combat that with my jacket and scarf. And the days are much longer now, so I am able to see the sun more. Lastly, with the return of warmer temperatures… my chilblains foot condition has gotten better. My poor toes are no longer swollen and itchy, but they still retain their odd red/purple color. It’s quite strange. I wonder how long they will stay that color.

And now… I have a bit of unfortunate news (having to do with this blog post’s title).

I was not accepted to my first-choice graduate school. I received the news on March 3rd and was quite devastated. I really was praying hard for that one. I had already been accepted to my second choice in December, but when my FAFSA report came back… It just did not look like a financially feasible or smart decision. And in addition to that, my heart longed for Texas and to be closer to friends and family.

So I did a lot of thinking. A LOT.

I decided that I am going to postpone graduate school, move back to Austin, find work, and reapply to more graduate schools in Texas next fall. When I left for JET, I told myself that “Austin will always be there when I get back.” And it is. So that’s where I’m going. It’s a little scary going into uncertainty and being without a job, but you know… I’ve done it before. I moved to Texas in 2009, found work, worked hard, had fun… Did all that. I can do it again.

I will be back in the US by July 4th so I can spend the holiday with my parents and brother who will be in Chicago. My contract states that my return airfare will be paid by Aomori Prefecture, so they are going to arrange my travel for me. Nice, huh?

I also have a few exciting travel plans coming up…

First, I am going to Tokyo for a week! From April 6th to April 13th! I am going to be staying with my host mom at her house in Koenji again. I haven’t seen her in a year and a half, so it will be good to visit. I am also going to meet my host sister and her 1 year old son that I haven’t met yet. I am also planning to meet up with several old friends so I can see them one last time before I leave Japan. Looks like it is going to be a fun week. I am also looking forward to having free time to just walk around Tokyo and explore again, like I used to back when I was 20 and living there. Most of my friends will be working during the day, so I suspect I will have free time to just relax and walk around. I’m not scheduled to teach again until April 17th, so it certainly beats sitting in the office! Plus, it is already pretty warm in Tokyo (compared to Aomori), so that is another great bonus.

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Second, my mom and I are going to New York City! 2013 is turning out to be a big year for me! Rome, Tokyo, New York City… I am going to spend the 4th of July weekend at home with my parents, and then we are leaving on Monday, July 8th to spend a week in NYC. A week! A whole week! Words cannot describe how excited I am to see this great city I have heard so much about. The crazy thing is that a mere two weeks ago I was contemplating going to NYC alone for a few days… And then my mom said she would love to join me… The rest is history. The plane tickets are bought. The tickets to see The Lion King on Broadway are bought. Sightseeing and restaurant plans are being made.

So that is what’s happening with me.

I plan to enjoy my last three months here in Japan and prepare for the next stage in my life. I will probably be moving to Texas at the end of July and we will see how things will go from there.

Until next time!

February 10, 2013

Year-in-Review: 2012

I’m a little late with this post this year, many apologies!

On the whole, 2012 was not an easy year. I learned a lot and experienced a lot. There were highs and there were lows; and I am ever-so-grateful for the people who were there to share in the highs and catch me in the lows. I couldn’t have done it without you.

I am proud of what I have achieved last year and am very much looking forward to what 2013 has in store.

And now without further ado, I bring you… 2012:

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January 31, 2013

Conclusion: Firenze to Rome to Milan to Tokyo to Hirosaki

Our trip destinations sound kind of like a Pitbull song, don’t they? (American pop culture reference!) We were just hopping everywhere to all these famous places… A whirlwind of international adventure. I felt like a real jet-setter.

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

We had a leisurely breakfast at our hostel in Firenze before we checked out. We had lucked out and found a super cheap train from Firenze to Rome at 19.45 euros apiece. It took 3 hours instead of 1.5, but was 25 euros cheaper. We decided to save the money and take the cheap train, which turned out to be an awesome idea.

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Excited to go back to Rome! And save money!

The slow train went through some amazing scenic places. I saw a glimpse of the beauty of Tuscany—rolling hills, lakes, wine grape fields, farms, a few castles on hills… It was so fun to watch how the scenery changed from northern to southern Italy. We were also very lucky to have gotten on the train at the first station, because as the train went on, there were no seats left. People were standing by the time we got to Rome Termini.

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January 25, 2013

Italy Day 6, 7: Firenze for a Day… Or Two

Friday, December 28th

We caught the high-speed train at 8-something that morning. I was glad were were not staying in that Venice hostel another night. It had been the most expensive and the least comfortable. We weren’t on the train long and arrived in Firenze around 10-something. (Note: I am going to use the Italian name “Firenze” instead of “Florence” because Firenze sounds much cooler than Florence.)

The hostel, Archi Rossi, was easy to find and the staff were very nice. They even had a Korean on staff (apparently the place was famous in Korean and among Koreans, which we would realize later). It was actually the first day they were open after the December holidays, so I considered us lucky that we got beds there. A great find, really. They let us check in early and we were the first ones in our 8-bed dormitory room. It didn’t take us long to put our stuff away and venture out in search of breakfast/lunch. There didn’t seem to be any grocery stores nearby, so we gave up and decided to wait for a certain restaurant to open.

We found a Jewish synagogue while waiting. It was a nice departure from all of the Catholic churches.

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At 12:10pm, the restaurant opened! I had been getting nervous that it was really just closed for the day, but then we saw lights on and signs of life, so it was okay!

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Kimberly obliged me as we decided to eat at Dolce Vegan, a vegan restaurant that was pretty well-known in Italy. I was dying to eat there. The service and rules of the restaurant (order at the counter, pick up your food from the counter when called, bus your own table…) took getting used to. The woman working there (maybe she was the owner) spoke Italian to us and the menu was entirely in Italian as well. We muddled through ordering and enjoyed some delicious food. And actually, my limited knowledge of Spanish helped with reading the menu. It was our first meal of the day and we were really hungry.

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That up there is my falafel, veggies and hummus.

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And this is Kimberly’s olive gnocchi pasta.

After we were no longer starving, we started to explore.

Walking around Firenze, my first impression was that it was a lot cleaner than Rome. It felt more like living art. Or like, walking around in art. It was hard not to be enchanted by the city.

…Love at first sight?

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January 22, 2013

Italy Day 4, 5: Colosseum, St. Peter’s, and Getting Lost in Venice

Italy Day 4
Wednesday, December 26th: The Colosseum and St. Peter’s Cathedral

On the 26th of December, the day after Christmas, we decided to forgo a day trip to Naples and stay in Rome. We had heard that the Colosseum was open on the 26th, as was St. Peter’s Cathedral. We both really wanted to get to those, so it seemed like a good idea just to stay put.

We finally got to have breakfast at the Beehive Café. I had an omelet for the first time in years, plus one slice of gluten-free bread and one slice of regular homemade bread. Actual real wheat bread. It was delicious.

A bit of background: I have been following a gluten-free diet since 2009 when my stomach and digestive system decided to completely rebel against me. Maybe it was the stress of graduating and trying to find a job, I don’t know. I had seen a gastroenterologist and had an endoscopy to check for celiac disease. I, thankfully, did not have the disease, but the blood test revealed that I might be sensitive to gluten/wheat. So I eliminated it from my diet and… I began to feel better! Less stomach distress, less pain, more energy, a lot of things. I decided to stick with it.

But lately I have eaten certain gluten-y things without pain/distress, so I don’t know what is going on. I decided to be less restrictive in my gluten-free-ness and try to eat bread in Italy. After all, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity! How could I not eat Italian bread and pasta?

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After breakfast, we were on our way to the Colosseum! I had done some research on the internet about this and lines for tickets to get into the Colosseum tended to also be ridiculous. However!! I got an awesome tip from Reddit that said to go to the Palatine Hill entrance first because you can get a ticket for all three (Colosseum/Palatine Hill/Roman Forum) and wait in a significantly shorter line. It was absolutely true—we were about 5th in line and were inside the Palatine Hill ruins in minutes!

I love ruins.

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The above used to be a fountain, with a pattern of four crescent-shaped shields a used by Amazons separated by semi-circle channels.

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Italy was full of these trees. They were awesome. They reminded me of skinny broccoli.

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Panoramaaaaaaaaaa!

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