Tag Archives: Hike

The Big Europe Trip: Villa Honegg

20 Aug

After several days of nonstop walking, James and I were ready just to laze around for awhile. Which was awesome because the next portion of our trip was two nights in a suuuuper fancy hotel near Lucerne.

Our room:IMG_20190503_145542Our view: IMG_20190503_145558After we got settled we went to check out the pool. It was awesome and had a fantastic view of Lake Lucerne. The only possible improvement? A pool beer.IMG_20190503_155805I liked the spa stations and James liked the giant taps.
IMG_20190503_153021This photo I just really like.MVIMG_20190503_163829Also this is the colder indoor pool that nobody ever used: IMG_20190504_073607We had dinner at the hotel restaurant, which was nice but expensive. We tried some Swiss wine and agreed that we weren’t huge fans.

The next morning we headed to the pool again for a pre-breakfast soak. It was really beautiful seeing the sun rise and the fog creep over the lake.
MVIMG_20190504_062411It was just us and one other couple and they very nicely took this photo of us:
MVIMG_20190504_062839 Help! He’s fallen and he can’t get up! IMG_20190504_061931We headed to the dining room for breakfast and in the afternoon we went for a light hike nearby. IMG_20190504_124645 Switzerland is so very lovely. The lake! The snow-capped mountains! The green! The cows!IMG_20190504_124903On the walk up we were delighted, absolutely delighted, to see these two cows standing butt to butt: IMG_20190504_140305It was raining lightly on our hike but it wasn’t too bad since we were prepared with rain jackets and hiking boots. Also we got to see this beautiful, overcast view of Lake Lucerne: IMG_20190504_125729-PANOWe also visited the Hammetschwand Elevator, which is the highest elevator in Europe. IMG_20190504_132845We took it to the bottom, plummeting 152.8 meters in less than a minute. We wanted to take it back up but it cost 13 CHF each, which we didn’t think was worth it when we’d already done it for free.

We continued the hike and found a bunch of hotels/spas where there was also this cool bridge: IMG_20190504_153540 Also this big guy came running at us out of nowhere, looking for pats, and James initially freaked out because he thought it was a wolf. IMG_20190504_151027James: He was a good dog all along. It was wrong of me to judge.
Me: Based on his running speed.
James: And his wolfy face.

There were some nice tunnels and caves on our way back.MVIMG_20190504_144509 I asked James if the cliff edge scared him (like the wolf dog) since he doesn’t like heights, and he said yes. You can see him keeping a nice, safe distance.IMG_20190504_135245Later in the afternoon when we were hanging out at the pool – we were there a lot – it started snowing! MVIMG_20190504_181518It was gentle, soft flakes in the afternoon and in the evening after dinner the snow really started pelting down.

It was magical and we had the best time. (We were also very pleased that we’d finished our hike before the weather turned). James kept fetching handfuls of snow from outside the pool and bringing them in the water because he liked feeling them melt.

The next morning was even more incredible. The snow had stopped at some point during the night but it was enough to blanket the area.IMG_20190505_115843We swam around for awhile, then showered and had breakfast.

The hotel had these enormous faux fur coats and wearing them made us feel like Russian gangsters.IMG_20190505_122034James surveying his domain.
It was a good morning for sunbathing.
MVIMG_20190505_122412 Touch the snow!
00000PORTRAIT_00000_BURST20190505123844345Then it was time to leave. =( We admired the beautiful view one last time on our picturesque drive back to Ennetburgen:
James was really excited that you could see a pretty clear line between where the snow had fallen the night before and where it hadn’t (you can also see it in the sunbathing picture above).

Reinvigorated by our lazy weekend, we got on a bus and train towards Zurich, where James had several days of work and I had several days of solo travel!

The Big Europe Trip: Val de Travers

13 Aug

The original plan for this day was to hike to the Creux du Van (a natural rock amphitheater in Val de Travers), then hike back and take the train to the town of Motiers, birthplace of absinthe. However we woke up feeling pretty exhausted from the previous day, and while James was having his morning shower, I decided to rent bikes so we could cycle there instead of walking. Genius!

It was convenient because the bike rental place was right at the train station. The start of the bike ride was through some nice flat farmland, where James was very excited about these sheep.
MVIMG_20190502_094538After the nice flat farmland we then climbed 2263 fucking feet. Even with the electric assist it was brutal.

It was overcast and when we reached the Creux du Van it had started to rain. The view of the amphitheater:
IMG_20190502_113326The view looking out:

The rain and cold made the bike ride back pretty excruciating. I was shivering nonstop and my hands were so cold I couldn’t feel them.

Also we got lost – like, really lost – wheeling our bikes on a mountain bike trail in between fallen trees, cow pats and patches of snow kind of lost. And it was still raining and still so, so cold. Finally we came across some sort of mini brewery or vineyard and I was able to ask for directions (in French!) and get us back on track.

We returned the bikes and took the train to Motiers. We were freezing and wet, and both of us independently considered just heading back to the hotel. Luckily we persevered because it ended up being really fun!

We looked around the absinthe museum (free with the Swiss Travel Pass) and did some tastings at Maison de l’Absinthe. They were insanely cheap – $6 for three tastings.IMG_20190502_165614 The lady who worked there was so lovely and helpful. James was curious about another absinthe and she just poured an extra tasting for him.

The wall of absinthe – we could pick any three to taste. We each did a traditional green absinthe, a blue one, and one that was high in thujone.IMG_20190502_170524James tried the stronger-tasting absinthes:
IMG_20190502_165507 And I tried the milder ones: IMG_20190502_165337James bought a couple of high-thujone absinthe since you can’t get those in the US. The lady also gave him an absinthe spoon (he could pick between the glass and the spoon and figured the spoon was easier to transport).

Sitting inside and drinking really warmed us up! It was definitely a tougher day than we were expecting, but now (having forgotten how cold and painful it was) I look back on it pretty fondly. =D

The Big Europe Trip: Lauterbrunnen

24 Jul

Apparently the weather can be hit or miss in early May, which is the shoulder season for hiking in Switzerland. Luckily I’d been keeping an eye on the weather forecast, and switched things around to make sure we were at Lauterbrunnen on the clearest day.IMG_20190501_131257 The valley is so, so beautiful. You’re surrounded by cliffs, mountains and waterfalls (with occasional cowbell sounds in the background).

We had originally just planned on hiking, but found out that our Swiss Travel Passes let us use the gondolas to get to the summit of Schilthorn, so we figured why not! The restaurant at the top was featured in a James Bond film, and there were signs promising we would be able to “touch the snow”. Exciting.

We did enjoy the “thrill walk” around the cliffs. IMG_20190501_105745(It actually was quite thrilling for James, who is a little bit scared of heights).

I also liked this tube suspended over the snow.
IMG_20190501_110512They also had these interactive binoculars that would tell you the height and name of the mountains you pointed them at. I think these ones were Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. MVIMG_20190501_111832We considerately moved our heads so you can see them properly.

Then we took another set of gondolas to the summit (9744 feet – not enough for James to get altitude sickness). Behold, the Piz Gloria from Her Majesty’s Secret Service!IMG_20190501_114807There were a bunch of James Bond things you could take a photo in front of, but we were much more interested in the mountains.
MVIMG_20190501_115325Touch the snow! 00000IMG_00000_BURST20190501115333I wasn’t actually dressed for it. I thought we’d just be hiking, not traipsing around in the snow, so I was wearing cropped leggings.
IMG_20190501_113839So in some ways we both got to touch the snow.

After we’d gotten our fill of snow-touching, we took the gondolas back down and started our hike of the Lauterbrunnen Valley.

Unfortunately we couldn’t do my top choice of hike because the gondolas that went there weren’t open yet, but it was still beautiful (though not very remote-feeling if that’s what you’re after). There are supposedly 72 waterfalls in the valley but I don’t think we spotted anywhere near that many. I think maybe some of them are subtle. This one was impressive though!IMG_20190501_125432We walked along this pretty creek.IMG_20190501_130217Part of the way through the hike we stopped off at Trummelbach Falls, which is a series of 10 glacier-fed waterfalls inside a mountain. Inside a freaking mountain.

Some of the falls were accessed by funicular. You guys know how excited I am by funiculars.
MVIMG_20190501_134337It was actually quite cold inside the mountain – with the lack of sun it felt colder than the top of Schilthorn.MVIMG_20190501_134825I liked the cool rock formations as well.
IMG_20190501_135511Trummelbach was James’ favourite part of the day. How did they even know the waterfalls were in there? What a mystery.

We were pretty knackered by the time we got back to the train station. I guess maybe it was a good thing we didn’t do one of the longer hikes. Here is our last view of Staubbach Falls before heading into town. Gorgeous!IMG_20190501_151837When we got back to Bern we had some much-needed showers, and then a fancy dinner at Kornhauskeller, which is famous for its impressive interior.
IMG_20190501_175858So yeah, that was our little Lauterbrunnen adventure. If we’re ever in Switzerland again I’d definitely head back to do some more hiking (or snowboarding depending on the season!). But until then, the next stage of our trip was Val de Travers for some cycling and absinthe.

Back to Tokyo and Up (Most of) Mount Fuji

19 Aug

Day 12: Japanese Whiskey and Tokyo

In the morning we took a train to Yamazaki to tour the Suntory whiskey distillery. We had to book quite far in advance but this tour was one of the few things in Japan that James really wanted to do.
IMG_20180702_093323Even a month in advance, only the morning slot was left, so 10am whiskey it was! We explored the museum while we waited for the tour to begin.
IMG_20180702_093613 There was information about the history of the company and also whiskeys in various states of aging:IMG_20180702_094242The distillery tour was in Japanese but they gave us headphones so we were able to follow along with the audio tour.

This room was very hot and yeasty. There was a reason that all the stills were different sizes but neither James nor I can remember why. Clearly we retained a lot of information from the tour.
IMG_20180702_101028 (1)This was the room where they aged the whiskey in barrels. I don’t like the taste of scotch but this room smelled wonderful – like we were in a forest.
MVIMG_20180702_102408The tour concluded with some whiskey tastings.
IMG_20180702_103822It was quite an elaborate set-up – there were snacks, overhead slides and a little reference guide. It also confirmed for me that I just don’t like whiskey and I gave half my tastings to James. (Then later one of the tour guides came around and was impressed that I’d managed to finish all of my whiskey and I awkwardly went along with it).

There was also a paid tasting room that had a much larger selection. It was packed – though I think we got unlucky because there was a big tour group there. This was the bar:IMG_20180702_120244And the menu:MVIMG_20180702_112716James tasted six (I think) whiskeys, including the super old/rare ones. He said they were very smooth but overall he prefers Scottish whiskey.

We also stopped by the gift shop but it was lame and had the same un-aged whiskeys you can find in the US or at any 7/11 in Japan. The tour and tasting room were really fun though and I’d definitely recommend them as a mini day-trip from Kyoto or Osaka.

Afterwards we took a train to Kyoto and then the Shinkansen back to Tokyo. We bought some food at the train station to eat on our trip.

This one was so pretty – like unwrapping a little present. =)
IMG_20180702_130552When we arrived in Tokyo we stashed our luggage in one of the station lockers and went to VR Zone in Shinjuku where we played VR Mario Kart.IMG_20180702_161347We could pick up bananas and shells with our hands and throw them at our opponents and the whole thing was really immersive. It had a big catch-up system so it didn’t feel like a lot of skill was necessarily involved but it was still fun.

We played 3 other games and they were various shades of OK – Mario Kart was the clear star. VR makes me a bit nauseous so I was quite happy to limit ourselves to 4.

We retrieved our luggage and checked into the Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku, where they had the cousin of Haku-chan (the sake-recommending robot) on staff:
MVIMG_20180710_183331For dinner we went to a place that is known for its deep-fried gyoza:
MVIMG_20180702_203018 And its katsu gyoza: MVIMG_20180702_202503They were tasty but the regular fried gyoza were the best. We both wished we’d just gotten one or two of the novelty kind and more of the fried gyoza.

Day 13: Google and Fuji

We took it easy this day because we had plans to climb Fuji overnight. We headed to Roppongi to check out the Google office since several friends who have worked there told us it has an amazing view. We were hoping to be able to see Fuji but unfortunately it wasn’t clear enough. =(

At one of the cafes I ordered a peach soda with basil and cider jelly (and my name in Japanese I think!)
IMG_20180703_092125I was intrigued by the Ramune soda bagel:MVIMG_20180703_094432But I should have gone with one of the croissants because the bagel was disgusting. I felt bad not finishing it but it was by far the worst thing I ate in Japan.

This was one of the microkitchens:
MVIMG_20180703_100422They had a lot of Japanese snacks, and we grabbed a couple of the onigiri for our Fuji hike.IMG_20180703_100550There were also these adorable lollies! MVIMG_20180703_101647James and the Oreo Android being dynamic together:
IMG_20180703_101606We did some light shopping, grabbed lunch, then had a fortifying afternoon nap at our hotel. The hotel was really conveniently located – a 5 minute walk from Shinjuku station and and also the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal to go to Mt Fuji.

We took the latest bus to the Mt Fuji Suburu Line 5th Station. There was only one store open at that time, so we bought some wooden walking sticks and started our hike a bit past 10pm.

Day 14: Fuji!

Hiking Mt Fuji overnight is called “bullet climbing” and generally not recommended. The way that most people climb Fuji is to start during the day, climb until they reach one of the mountain huts, stay there overnight, then climb again in the early morning to reach the summit by sunrise. Bullet climbing is starting in the evening and climbing throughout the night.

James and I opted to bullet climb because we really didn’t want to hike in the heat and also didn’t want to pay $70 each for a sleeping bag in a shared room at a mountain hut. It was fine. The only tricky part was the altitude, which affected James a lot more than it did me (which we expected, because he gets headaches on top of Mammoth at 11k feet).

But anyway, we were fairly well-prepared with warm layers, headlamps, and plenty of food and water. We hiked throughout the night, starting from 2800 meters (9186 feet) at the 5th Station.

We were really glad we brought our headlamps since it was dark on the trail.
MVIMG_20180703_222612You can see the shadow of James’ head on the sign post. Even before I remembered taking this photo I saw it and was like “hey, that shadow looks a lot like James’ head!”

There were several stations where we would briefly rest and get our walking sticks stamped (well, branded really). The early stamps cost 300 yen but prices went up the higher we climbed. Also some stations had multiple stamps so it ended up costing quite a bit!MVIMG_20180703_234154James and I agreed that the beginning of the hike was the hardest mentally because it was the longest stretch without a break. Later on it was steeper but there were more stations to stop at for breaks. Which was good because James had a headache and nausea from the altitude. He’s not a complainer so the fact that he even said anything meant it was pretty bad.

By the time we got to the 8th station area it was starting to get really windy, and any time we stopped walking we would instantly feel the cold. The wind forecast had been fine when we checked earlier that day, but we talked to a Canadian guy who was worried because he said the forecast was getting worse and worse.

We got to Goraikou (the final mountain hut) a bit before 3pm. It was really howling by this point and the ranger told everyone we were better off staying where we were for the sunrise because it was even windier and more overcast at the summit. We decided to take temporary shelter inside the mountain hut then continue to the top after sunrise.

Here we are inside the hut around 3:30am.IMG_20180704_034708Unfortunately the wind got even worse, and when we tried to go up the ranger said that they were no longer allowing people to summit because it was too dangerous (later we found out that Typhoon Prapiroon had just hit). IMG_20180704_041751 (1)I was so bummed. Climbing Fuji was the only reason we’d gone to Japan in the summer and we were so, so close! If we’d known that resting meant we couldn’t get to the summit we would have just kept going. When we got back to the 5th Station we talked to some people who had gotten to the summit and they said it was really awful. Apparently they couldn’t see anything and it was raining, cold, so windy that people were getting blown around, and everyone descended as quickly as they could after sunrise. But at least they got there!

And it’s not like our sunrise view was any better:
IMG_20180704_041806 We hung around for ages, hoping the wind would die down and the ranger would let us up. But no luck. =(

On the plus side, while we were waiting the clouds cleared and revealed this spectacular view: MVIMG_20180704_043433-PANO (1)Isn’t that cloud amazing?? I looked it up afterwards and it’s a lenticular cloud caused by some combination of the mountain, wind and air temperature. At the time I was so disappointed we hadn’t gotten to the summit that it didn’t register how fortunate we were to see that gorgeous view. I’m really glad we took photos!
IMG_20180704_050429Eventually we gave up and started the descent, and it was raining and windy pretty much the whole way down. A couple of times there’d be a huge gust of wind and we’d have to plant our walking sticks and hunker down so we didn’t get blown off the mountain.

We didn’t have waterproof layers on our bottom halves so got soaked (top halves were dry though!). Combined with the disappointment of not summiting, the descent and the long (damp) wait for the bus was a completely miserable experience.

We took the bus back and walked back to our hotel – thank goodness for that 5 minute commute because we were seriously gross. We showered and had a post-Fuji nap before grabbing some conveyor belt sushi for an early dinner.IMG_20180704_190050We were very pleased with the conveyor belt sushi. Obviously restaurant sushi was better, but this was cheap, decent, quick, and a fun novelty.

Then we went to a bar called Whales of August which made movie-inspired drinks, some which were kind of meh and some which were very creative.

MVIMG_20180704_195557 Totoro!MVIMG_20180704_201830Even the drinks with beautiful presentation weren’t great-tasting though. We’d pretty much exclusively been drinking at high-end cocktail bars in Japan and it was a stark contrast.

We did some shopping, then wandered over to check out the Shibuya crossing intersection. Honestly I don’t get why it’s a tourist attraction except maybe for people who’ve never been to a big city before. It’s a big, multi-directional crossing. Cool?

Since we were in the area we also stopped by the Hachiko statue:IMG_20180704_223334 (1)When we went back to our hotel I got all sad again about not summiting Fuji. It was the only reason we’d come during the summer (we both hate hot weather) and not getting to the top felt like a failure. Normally we would have tried again another trip but neither of us wanted to go to Japan in summer again.

We checked the forecast for our remaining days in Japan but the typhoon meant that it was raining and windy the whole time, and the only day it looked possible was our departure day – and that day was a tiny window sandwiched between two storms. So even if we changed our flights, if the first storm went longer than expected or the second storm arrived earlier, we’d be SOL again.

Plus it was the end of a long holiday with a lot of walking in very hot/humid weather so we were both tired, James already had a ton of people booking meetings with him as soon as he got back, we’d be sacrificing really great flatbed seats on our return trip with the possibility that we’d have to fly economy, and it would cost around 1k to rebook our flights/hotels/Fuji buses/the catsitter. James hated the hike since he’d had a headache and nausea for much of it (and had carried all our stuff because of my herniated disc) and pointed out that we had pretty much climbed Fuji, and the last few hundred meters didn’t make a difference except in my head.

Basically, there were a ton of practical/financial/logistical reasons I should have accepted that we weren’t going to summit Mt Fuji, and the only reason to try again was that I really, really wanted to.

You can see where this is all going. (Yes, I am aware that I’m incredibly spoiled)
IMG_20180704_043946See you soon, Fuji-san!


29 Jul

Day 5: Travel to Kyoto and Geishas

In the morning we checked out of our hotel and took the shinkansen to Kyoto. The weather in Kyoto was insanely hot – much more hot and humid than Tokyo. We’d planned quite a light itinerary, but even then we still pared things down because it was awful being outside in that 12-5pm stretch.

Luckily our hotel was beautiful. We stayed at the Ritz-Carlton and they upgraded us to one of the luxury river view rooms:
IMG_20180625_131252It’s hard to tell in that photo but on the console is our own little bonsai tree. =)

On the table they had a welcome gift of some fresh fruit, some green tea waffles and a box of chocolates. Also some beautiful origami cranes:
IMG_20180625_132815Our room was enormous compared to the other Japanese hotels we stayed at. You could probably fit our other hotel rooms in the dining area alone.

And then another hotel room in the bedroom area:
IMG_20180625_132801The doorway to the left led to the entrance hallway had some refreshments (water, coffee and tea restocked daily) and the mini bar:
IMG_20180625_131143And to the right was the bathroom area, with the toilet at the end of the hall and the bathroom opposite the mirrors.
IMG_20180625_131204The showerhead was across from the bathtub so that wooden panel was the shower floor. The bath amenities were great – Asprey body wash, shampoo and conditioner, with yuzu and hinoki bath salts also provided.

And did I show you how big the bed was?
IMG_20180625_170305 (1)It was by far the most we’ve ever spent on a hotel but it was worth it. Housekeeping would come by twice a day and in the evenings they’d leave us a little snack like chocolates or cookies. =)

But anyway, we were able to check in early and then headed to Nishiki Market to wander around. I loved the stores where you could pick out fresh seafood and they’d prep and serve it:
IMG_20180625_141405I also loved the oversized Japanese oysters:IMG_20180625_141735But my favourite was sea urchin!MVIMG_20180625_142214We walked around eating whatever caught our eyes – which was generally oversized seafood. This:
IMG_20180625_143913 Was turned into this:IMG_20180625_144224The different parts of it had different textures – some of it was really soft and a couple of parts were almost crunchy.

For lunch dessert we had some green tea rice cake:
IMG_20180625_144817It was very matcha-y and the lady behind the counter said it wouldn’t keep and had to be eaten day-of.

We were full by the time we saw these little hedgehog pastries so didn’t get any, but how cute are they?? MVIMG_20180625_145424After the market we walked around in the attached shopping area where we found an arcade to hang out in. I liked how random some of the claw machine prizes were – bread in a can!
IMG_20180625_150751James also found a drum game that he enjoyed. I like the bonnet-wearing dogs on the screen:
IMG_20180625_151443 Speaking of … IMG_20180625_155004We also found another cat hat gachapon in the shopping arcade. This one had really cool costume hats and I kind of regret not trying for that cool sushi hat at the end:
IMG_20180625_155000After that it was time to go back to the hotel and shower/change for our Geisha dinner at Gion Hatanaka.IMG_20180625_200149The food was beautiful: IMG_20180625_175128But not that tasty. =( There were multiple courses that we forced ourselves to eat – it was all you can drink, which helped.

In between dinner and dessert we were introduced to the Maiko (apprentice Geishas) and the hostess told us some facts about their dress and lifestyle. Then we were treated to a shamisen performance from a Geisha while a Maiko danced.
IMG_20180625_182803Afterwards one of the Maiko came to the different tables and we were able to ask her questions through an interpreter.

Then after dinner we got to play drinking games with the Maiko – that was definitely my favourite part of the night.

(I didn’t choose the title of the video – that was James, who was very proud that I won. Afterwards he was like “she trained at drinking games! And you beat her!”)

Most people lost and the Maiko would pour them a glass of beer or sake (which you can see to the right of the Maiko in the video). If you won you got to pick a small prize (in the basket to her right).

The second drinking game was basically rock/paper/scissors. You hid behind a screen then chose to be either a samurai, tiger or old lady. The samurai killed the tiger who ate the old lady who, I don’t know, scolded? the samurai. Here James is the tiger and the other guy is the old lady, so James won!
IMG_20180625_194157I also won my match. Our night’s loot:
IMG_20180711_142758(Oil blotting sheets, Geisha coasters and chopsticks)

Afterwards we headed to the nearby Yasaka Shrine to look around. It was very atmospheric at night.IMG_20180625_201752Looking towards the street:IMG_20180625_202731-EFFECTSThen we walked back to our hotel, ready for an early start the next day.

Day 6: Arashiyama

In the morning we took a bus to the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.
IMG_20180626_074805We got there around 7am which was a good time because there were only a scattered few other people around and it was easy to get uncrowded photos.
IMG_20180626_073625We talked to a photographer who said he’d gone at 8am the other day but even then it was too crowded. So yeah, like with Sensoji (and every other popular attraction in Japan) best to go early!

Afterwards we headed to the nearby Tenryuji temple gardens which we which we enjoyed a surprising amount.
MVIMG_20180626_083204 We were there right as it opened so pretty much had it to ourselves (I assume while everyone else was at the bamboo grove). IMG_20180626_083446James was particularly impressed with the moss. The day before I had seen him stop and admire a moss display at a florist in Kyoto but I think this was the day that confirmed his love of it.

James and his moss:
IMG_20180626_085314It’s always quite exciting when you discover something new about yourself. =)

After the zen garden it was time to go the monkey park. To get to the monkey area we hiked 20 or 30 minutes up a hill, which was quite tiring in the heat.
MVIMG_20180626_091640There was a feeding room where we could buy food for the monkeys (apples or peanuts) and stand inside what was basically a giant cage, feeding the monkeys who were outside. We prioritised the baby monkeys because they were adorable.
IMG_20180626_094429I didn’t realise this at the time, but apparently the monkeys give birth in June/July and that’s why there were so many babies around.

It was really fun feeding the monkeys and it didn’t hurt that the shade and fans were a nice respite from the heat.

Outside it was so hot even the monkeys looked for ways to keep cool: MVIMG_20180626_095500Did I mention how cute the babies were? I did, but it really needs to be re-said.
IMG_20180626_094901 Super cute.IMG_20180626_094852We packed a lot into that morning! Afterwards we walked to the train station and headed back to our end of the city for some ramen. We went to a place called Honke Daiichi Asahi. It was absolutely delicious.
IMG_20180626_112135 And very popular. And very air-conditioned inside. =D

This was the line by the time we left – pretty decent for a weekday lunch! IMG_20180626_113940When we got back to the hotel we relaxed in our room, went for a swim in the pool, used the sauna (James: I don’t like this. It’s like being outside) and had a fortifying afternoon nap. Since it was so unbearable outdoors we were really happy to have a nice base to come back to.

In the early evening we went to Okazaki Shrine, which is appropriately rabbit-themed since it’s associated with fertility:
IMG_20180626_164337There were little bunny statues everywhere:MVIMG_20180626_162415And the Chozuya had a decorative rabbit instead of a dragon:
MVIMG_20180626_163844Then we had an early dinner at a nearby restaurant. We ate wild boar and candied grasshopper that the owner/chef had caught himself:
IMG_20180626_171427And followed that with drinks at the hotel bar. The cocktails were quite pricey ($23) even by US standards but they were delicious and beautifully crafted. This one came in an ice bamboo glass:IMG_20180626_203414I also had a hojicha cocktail which was decorated with tea leaves:
IMG_20180626_210119It looked really cool but got quite sticky as the honey glue holding the tea in place dripped down.

James really enjoyed the theatrics of his drink (and the drink itself):00060IMG_00060_BURST20180626212039_COVERIt was a great way to end the night. =)

Day 7: Kibune

This was the first morning that we took advantage of the free hotel breakfast. If you wanted the Japanese style breakfast you had to reserve it the night before:
IMG_20180627_072846The rice was cooked overnight in a clay pot (I think that was the reason we had to reserve it the day before).IMG_20180627_072855It was a massive breakfast.

Then we walked to the train station, crossing over the Kamo-gawa river.
MVIMG_20180627_084020We took a couple of trains and a bus to Kibune, which in summer is famous for its picturesque riverside dining and nagashi somen (noodles that you catch with chopsticks as they flow past you in bamboo chutes) at a restaurant called Hirobun.

I was a bit worried because our train and bus were quite full, so even though Hirobun didn’t open for 1.5 hours we power walked up the hill to get there. This was the line just before it opened:IMG_20180627_102259It’s not that long and at first we felt like idiots. But when we walked down we saw that nagashi somen only sat 10 or 15 at a time, so everyone past that lady in the yellow skirt had to wait for the second seating.

We prepaid at the counter upstairs then went down to the river, where we were greeted with this view:
IMG_20180627_104209James waiting for his somen to arrive (ours was the middle chute): IMG_20180627_110030Catching my noodles:
00013IMG_00013_BURST20180627110124_COVERThe noodles were quite plain but the activity was fun! They were really good at timing the noodles so you had enough time to eat but weren’t waiting around too long. It sounds silly but it was really exciting whenever I saw some noodles plop into our chute!

This was the waiting area by the time we left (and there was an equally long line outside). At least it was nice and cool next to the river. =)IMG_20180627_112359There were tons of noodles and we were really full at the end. I’d definitely recommend it if you’re in Kyoto in summer!

Then we went to Kifune Shrine, which is dedicated to the god of water and rain. You could purchase a cool fortune which only showed up if you dipped it in water:
MVIMG_20180627_114337 It had a QR code that you could scan to find your fortune in a bunch of different languages. =)

After the shrine we hiked from Kibune to Kurama. It was quite uphill at the beginning:
IMG_20180627_115859Despite that it wasn’t a difficult hike, and there were a lot of shrines and others points of interest to stop at. This tree grove had really interesting roots: IMG_20180627_122721And James found a giant bell:
IMG_20180627_124829Kurama-dera Mountain Temple was also pretty cool.
MVIMG_20180627_125232 It had a lovely view over the mountains:MVIMG_20180627_125309 This was the end of the hike, descending into Kurama:IMG_20180627_130811We took the train back to Kyoto and our hotel for our customary afternoon rest.

In the evening we did a bit of shopping before dinner. On the way we saw a lady walking a turtle! MVIMG_20180627_171202She told us its name but I can’t remember it. Sorry little anonymous turtle!

At Loft, we found a whole series of cat gachapon. =D
IMG_20180627_175612And even more cat hats: MVIMG_20180627_175904
For dinner we went to Anzukko, which is known for its cast iron gyoza. It (and everything else we ate there) was excellent:
IMG_20180627_183120After dinner we walked around and found some mysterious adult only gachapon: MVIMG_20180627_194055
Which I completely bypassed for the peach squishy gachapon next to it:00000XTR_00000_BURST20180627202518-ANIMATIONNote: it (along with the french breadstick squishy under it) was the only one we saw where the contents were guaranteed.

We actually went back for that peach squishy – I couldn’t stop thinking about it after we originally saw it so we went back. Also it came out all compressed and gradually inflated over the course of an hour.

My peach joy:

Day 8: Fushimi Inari

At 6am the next morning we went to Fushimi Inari. There were a few people around but it was pretty empty:
IMG_20180628_060023It was difficult waking up early all the time, but really worth it to avoid the crowds and the afternoon heat. MVIMG_20180628_060120Inari is the god of rice but is also worshipped as the god of business, and all of the torii at the shrine have been donated by Japanese businesses. The foxes at Fushimi Inari often had stones or keys (to the granary) in their mouths.
MVIMG_20180628_060441James liked the foxes and kept looking for one with 9 tails (apparently the more tails the fox has the wiser it is).

This one-tailed fox didn’t cut it:
MVIMG_20180628_082301The walk was very nice – even at the lower shrines where it’s normally quite busy we only ever saw a couple of people.

I can’t remember why the path split here – I think maybe they wanted you to go up one way and down the other way?
MVIMG_20180628_060818This section was called senbon-no-torii (one thousand torii) – they were so dense they blocked the sunlight:
IMG_20180628_060830The backs of the gates had details about who had donated them and on what date:IMG_20180628_061827We soon arrived at the inner shrine of Fushimi Inari. Nearby there were these rocks – you were supposed to make a wish and lift up one of them, and if it was lighter than you expected your wish would come true. Spoiler: the rocks were both very heavy.IMG_20180628_061322We kept walking and it was pretty cool seeing all the gates in various states. Some were faded and old, others quite new and even a couple with signs warning you not to toucch them because the paint was still wet. This shrine wasn’t finished yet:
IMG_20180628_075036We took a slight detour to a shrine area with stray cats:
IMG_20180628_063232This was the view near the top:IMG_20180628_080116Us at the summit:
MVIMG_20180628_072755The way back down was leafier and at times the torii gates were quite far apart: IMG_20180628_073809We passed a shrine grotto with a waterfall that you could stand under and pray:
MVIMG_20180628_074428 We didn’t see a lot of people on our walk down:IMG_20180628_074626It only really started to get busy once we hit the inner shrine. At the bottom we bought a torii gate ema:
IMG_20180628_060344(I’d taken that photo earlier – by the time we got back down it was swarming with people).

On the walk back to the station James tried his luck with the gachapon, hoping for the 9 tailed fox. IMG_20180628_085659Unfortunately both times he just got regular foxes. In our Japan expenses spreadsheet he has them listed as “2 unlucky foxes”.

After breakfast we went shopping, which might have been a mistake because it was so hot. On the plus side we found some Peach Coke!MVIMG_20180628_131241And another gachapon arcade. The weird gachapon we found here were buff birds:IMG_20180628_135024And tiny clothes hangers:IMG_20180628_135128In the evening we had dinner in Pontocho Alley: IMG_20180628_183248And enjoyed our evening snack from hotel housekeeping:
IMG_20180628_142140I was so sad to leave that hotel! But I guess not too sad since I knew we were definitely going back to Kyoto one day (which was also why I was OK with skipping a couple of the main temples that were under renovation) – but never again in summer. =P

Kyoto was a gorgeous city and a nice change of pace from Tokyo. But we were ready for the next portion of our trip – Nara, Osaka and Kobe!

Days 1-4 of a Hastily-Planned Trip to Seoul!

27 Feb

James had to go to Seoul for a work trip so he took some leave and we burned some frequent flyer points to get me there and make a mini holiday out of it. It was all at the last minute, which goes against my need to over-plan our holidays, but somehow we managed to make it work!

Day 1 – Travel Day

We got to the airport and through security waaay faster than we thought we would (thanks TSA Pre-Check!) so started off with a boozy breakfast in the United lounge. I had some Moet and James had coffee spiked with Bailey’s, a Bloody Mary and a glass of scotch. A morning glass of scotch. =/ (When we went to our gate there was a 30 minute boarding delay and James said in the most disgruntled voice you can imagine, “we’re going to be sober by the time we get on the plane.”)

Overall it was a pretty uneventful trip (we got ramen on the flight! That was pretty exciting) and we basically slept as soon as we got to our hotel.

Day 2 – Culture Day

This day we pretty much knocked out all of the big cultural attractions of Seoul. We’re not temple/palace people so we decided just to see the main two, which I think was a good choice.

We started off with Gyeungbokgung Palace, where we saw the changing of the guard and did a tour of the grounds.
IMG_20180217_102439Afterwards we wandered over to the Korean Cultural Museum area, which had a lot of Seollal (Lunar New Year) activities and crafts. There were lots of families and people in costumes wandering around which was fun. We made these woodblock prints:
IMG_20180217_112404But had great regrets that we didn’t stop at the “Crafting Dog-Shaped Humidifier” stand (initial ironic-regret turned to actual-regret later in the trip as James’ knuckles started cracking and bleeding from the dry air!)

We really liked these statues of all the Chinese Zodiac animals (a luckily-timed shot, because the place was packed):
IMG_20180217_110948We then walked to Bukchon Hanok Village, which has hundreds of traditional Korean houses, preserved to show a 600 year old urban environment. The alleyways were quite narrow and steep, and I liked the contrast with modern Seoul in the background. =)
IMG_20180217_120303We tried a couple of places for lunch but they were closed because of Seollal. Eventually we found a street dumpling place in Insadong that seemed to be doing a brisk business and ate there.

Then we walked to Jongmyo Shrine, which is the shrine for kings and queens of the Joseon Dynasty. Like I said earlier though, we’re not really shrine people and I think we could have skipped this to shorten the day. Though on the walk there we did find a little exercise park with this fun workout machine:


Also at the shrine there was a raised path with a sign that said “Please do not walk on this pathway. This is for the spirits.” So now whenever James sees a bike path or something like that he tells me it’s for the spirits.

Then we headed to Namsangol Hanok Village, which had some reconstructions of what I assume were upper class Korean houses. There were some Seollal celebrations going on there too, and we made a wish that, in a few days, would be burned with thousands of other wishes.
IMG_20180217_155112Then we walked to N Seoul Tower, climbed a billion stairs, and saw some amazing views of Seoul.
IMG_20180217_164146The tower reminded us of the Space Needle in Seattle.
IMG_20180217_170254While we waited for sunset we explored the stores inside. There were a bunch of people waiting in line for a VR experience, so we figured we might as well join them to kill time.

Here we are, uncertain about what we’re even waiting for – the San Franciscan way:
IMG_20180217_171424I chose the (most popular) harness one which looked pretty impressive:Burst_Cover_GIF_Action_20180217174300But was actually quite shit because the harness didn’t even try to match the movement of the video. The disconnect actually made me feel super sick and I had to close my eyes while I got randomly jostled around. =(

This is James on his bike, which he said was also crappy.
IMG_20180217_174731And here he is looking at a 3D video in the tower:
IMG_20180217_175138By the time we got around to buying our tickets for the observation deck, they had a sign saying that the wait to get to the top was >70 minutes, which was way too long, so we decided to head back.

We spent a frustrating amount of time trying to find a restaurant that wasn’t closed, and in the end had some mediocre seafood fried rice. We were utterly wrecked by this time, cos we’d walked 9.5 hours and I had discovered my new boots weren’t completely broken in. =( Just in time for …

Day 3 – Hike Day

We actually ended up walking far less than we did on our first day! We spent the morning hiking (a tiny) part of the fortress wall that used to surround part of Seoul.

Here we are at the Changuimun Gate before our hike:
IMG_20180218_095843We had to sign up for a pass that allowed us access, because in the 1960s North Korean soldiers had used this portion of the wall, which is quite high-up so apparently tactically advantageous, as part of an assassination attempt on the South Korean president.

It was definitely high up. Living in San Francisco we’re pretty used to stairs, but this hike had a shit ton of stairs.
IMG_20180218_103054The military was everywhere, but they were basically all kids in their early 20s, and when we said hello (one of the few words we know in Korean) they would smile and bow at us.

Our passes!
IMG_20180218_103930 (The soldiers were definitely looking for these, because at one point I’d put my jacket back on, which hid my pass, and one of them gestured to me to pull it back out so he could see.)

This is James hamming it up next to a tree with bullet-holes from the assassination attempt: IMG_20180218_104517You can see how long the wall stretches!
IMG_20180218_112254We ended the hike at the Sukjeongmun Gate at the north. You can keep going around the whole wall but we were happy to stop since we’d done the most interesting part. =)
IMG_20180218_114158We returned our passes, then caught an Uber (which is 2-3x the cost of a cab in Seoul, so that was the only time we Ubered) to grab some lunch.

I wanted to try some stuff that we don’t normally get in the US, so had jjajangmyun, which is a Korean/Chinese fusion dish of noodles in black bean sauce.
IMG_20180218_125404It wasn’t really much to write home about. The noodle texture was really good but the dish wasn’t as flavoursome at it looked (the deep brown colour fooled me!).

James also got an Oreo churro for dessert, which he said was average and also not as exciting as it looked. =(
IMG_20180218_133121We were still knackered from the other day, so we went back to our hotel, had a nap, and then dinner and a ton of drinks in the hotel lounge (all freeeee! Thanks to James’ Marriott Gold status) and had an early night because we had another big day coming up.

Day 4 – Fun Day

Fun Day lived up to its name! We started off at the Trick-Eye Museum near Hongik. It was super tacky, but really quite fun! There were lots of photo ops with various trompe l’oeil exhibits, and you could download an app that made the exhibits interactive.

Cheesy but cool, right? Right??

giphy-downsized-large (1)
We kept holding our phones up to all the exhibits to see how they’d change.


IMG_20180219_104955Enormous James and Tiny Kaye – how do they make their marriage work?
IMG_20180219_104642Because James is such a cool dude, that’s how! Cowabunga!
ArtCam_2018219103951Then we exited via a mirror maze (surprisingly disorienting!) to the main area, where we entered their small ice museum. It was really cold inside and I’m pretty sure everything was some sort of plastic, not ice, but it was entertaining enough for 5-10 minutes.

Third wheel!
IMG_20180219_113708There was a cool little slide:
giphy-downsized-large (2)
Back in the lobby there was a little cafe where you could get a latte with a custom picture on top! You had to take a photo of yourself on a phone that had some special app installed (I assume) and then they printed it on your foam. Behold!
IMG_20180219_115512Afterwards we headed to a meerkat cafe which was insanely adorable. The meerkats were so curious and sweet! A couple of them took naps on James:
IMG_20180219_130836Apparently a group of meerkats is called a “mob”, “gang” or “clan”. But it should be “abundance”. Look at that abundance of meerkats.
They loooved standing on our shoulders and peering around.
IMG_20180219_131202 They also stuck their paws down our butt-cracks and fished around a bit. =O One of them grabbed James’ braces which he did not like, a couple of them scurried down my shirt, and one of them kept sniffing around my nose and mouth and eventually stuck his nose right up my nostril.

Me: Did you get a shot of the meerkat sticking its nose up my nose?
James: Yeah I think so.IMG_20180219_131103
(That’s the handler’s hand as she tried to dislodge my meerkat).

They also had some friendly raccoons:
00005IMG_00005_BURST20180219123819_COVERAnd wallabies.
And if you know James you know that of course he couldn’t leave without annoying a couple of the resident cats with his friendship:
IMG_20180219_134927Afterwards we walked to Kyochon Chicken to grab some chicken and beer. It was really, really good.
IMG_20180219_145257Then we took a train to the Gangnam business district to have a peek at Google Seoul and for James to grab a coffee from the microkitchen. James said this was his favourite room:
IMG_20180219_170006 And I thought this one was pretty cool too: IMG_20180219_170202
It was less exciting than all the other Googles I’ve been to – the views were amazing, but we’d seen fantastic views our previous two days already. At least the coffee helped perk James up. =)

To finish off our sightseeing we headed to Samsung D’Light just down the road. It’s a big Samsung store on the ground floor with more conceptual stuff on the top two floors.

James tried some VR, which he said was much better than the one at N Seoul Tower (James: and we didn’t have to wait in line!!).
IMG_20180219_174342In his virtual reality he is riding a racing pig but in actual reality he is sitting in a chair.

Upstairs they had this surprisingly fun quiz thing, where you went to multiple stations and answered questions about yourself and it would ostensibly tell you about your personality, but really it was just an excuse to show off cool visuals on their awesome screens.
IMG_20180219_180003Here is James designing his ideal planet:
IMG_20180219_175817He was very proud of this picture, which had captured his movement to make an artsy composite picture (like he’s seriously proud of it – it’s now his Facebook and Google profile pic):
senseUs on the big screen!
IMG_20180219_182932There was a car racing game with a swish curved monitor, car controls and chair.IMG_20180219_180859This was some interactive display about … I want to say a composite chip maybe?
IMG_20180219_181139On the top floor there was this really awesome “house of the future”. You can see from the photo that the house was blank, but if you lifted up the tablet everything would be coloured-in on the screen with a bunch of actors and CGI showing the technology and how the house occupants used it in their everyday lives. As you moved the tablet around it would show you the section you were pointing at – on the same angle and everything!
IMG_20180219_182122(We initially didn’t realise how to use it – it was on a stand angled downwards and when we pressed start we were like “WTF it’s just a shot of people’s feet”)

We finished off our Samsung experience with even more VR (an abundance of VR!). This one was a rollercoaster. =D
IMG_20180219_183438Seriously it was so much cooler than the one at N Seoul Tower and we just walked straight on – we were the only ones there!

For dinner we had bibimbap. It was okay but very rice-heavy (I didn’t realise they didn’t come with meat because all the ones we’d had in the US did) and there was so much of it I couldn’t finish. =(
IMG_20180219_195111 James mid-bite with it all mixed together: IMG_20180219_195612It turned out James had more room – just not for rice – and he ordered some fried meat on a stick at the Myeongdong street market.
IMG_20180219_210656Then we went back to our hotel and had an early night because we were going to the Olympics the next day!

A Point Reyes Christmas!

12 Jan

James and I spent Christmas in Point Reyes this Christmas. It’s about 1.5 hours from San Francisco, so it’s perfect for a long weekend getaway.

Christmas Eve

We’d picked up our rental car the day before, so got an early start on our trip. Here we are heading out of the city:
IMG_20171224_081946We arrived at the Point Reyes Lighthouse a little bit before it opened. There were very few people around, and on the walk to the lighthouse we saw some elk. This one crossed the road right in front of us!IMG_20171224_095757I guess he has a fancy necklace because they monitor the elk population or something?

We had some nice views of the seashore and (what I’m going to assume were) Cypress trees.
IMG_20171224_100144Before descending to the lighthouse, a warning to us all:
IMG_20171224_100802There were just a couple of other groups, and everyone was very considerately staggering themselves, so we had the lighthouse to ourselves.
IMG_20171224_101407We saw the Fresnel lens and the inside of the lighthouse. James read the lighthouse keeper’s diary and said it was basically the diary of a man slowly going mad. Apparently it was mainly complaints about how little work the other lighthouse keeper did, and also every few months he would see a boat.

The way back up – 308 steps!
IMG_20171224_102810We went to Point Reyes Station to do some grocery shopping (it was slammed!) and then headed to get our oyster lunch(es).

Our first stop was Hog Island Oysters where we ordered raw oysters, oysters with barbecue sauce, and half a Dungeness crab.
IMG_20171224_123909They sold oysters that you could take home and shuck yourself, which sounds amazing. Maybe next time!

Afterwards we went to The Marshall Store. They were more expensive than Hog Island, so if you’re getting plain oysters you should probably go elsewhere, but the smoked and barbecued oysters were incredible – and the barbecued oysters came with a giant, satisfying hunk of bread!

Hog Island Oysters had the pretty fairy lights, but it was really nice sitting on the water with our delicious oysters. IMG_20171224_140411Afterwards we headed to our rental cabin in Point Reyes, ready for an early start the next day.

Christmas Day

We got to the Palomarin trailhead around 8am to hike Alamere Falls. It’s one of the most popular hikes in the area but the parking lot was empty on Christmas Day.

It’s an 8 mile (12.8km) round trip – we actually did 10 miles (16km) because we missed the turn-off. We think there used to be an official sign but now there’s just this mysterious rock arrow pointing into some bushes.
IMG_20171225_102019On our hike back we watched from around the corner to see what people would do, and everyone took the shortcut. I guess James and I are just very untrusting people. =(

After a long and circuitous walk on an empty beach, we finally arrived!
IMG_20171225_113928The falls emptied out to the ocean, which was really cool.
Here is James having lunch at the base while I wandered around.
IMG_20171225_114252When the tide came in it cut off the beach route that we had taken to get to the falls. The shortcut involved a bit of a scramble up a cliff. IMG_20171225_120228At the top there were several little falls before the main waterfall.
IMG_20171225_120731 We think this was the top waterfall but you can never be sure. IMG_20171225_121216
There were a lot of people on our walk back and when we got back to the carpark it was full, which was a bit surprising given that it was Christmas. But I guess I don’t know how full it would have been on a regular day to compare.

We got home, showered and napped. Then we had dinner, drank a bottle of champagne and played Exit: The Abandoned Cabin, an escape room game. It was so cosy and satisfying spending the evening solving puzzles together. What a perfect day. =)

Boxing Day

This was our cabin at sunrise.
IMG_20171226_074223 (1)After we checked out we went kayaking on Tomales Bay. It was a beautiful morning and the water was like glass.
MVIMG_20171226_110400 We spent a lot of the time following this bird around. He hated us; every time we paddled within 50 meters of him he glared at us and flew away. MVIMG_20171226_104019We stopped for lunch on Heart’s Desire beach and then continued on our kayak journey. The water had gotten quite choppy and we were fighting against the current. I say “we”, but unfortunately for James, my paddling was largely decorative.

You can tell by his happiness levels. Here we are, kayaking out:
IMG_20171226_102750 (1)And kayaking back:
IMG_20171226_124600Logistically it had been a poor decision to kayak on the day we didn’t have a hot shower immediately available, but it was the only way I could have fit everything in since the kayak place wasn’t open Christmas Day and the lighthouse wasn’t open Monday to Thursday.

But anyway, we dried off as best we could and headed back to San Francisco. It was a really wonderful way to spend the Christmas break. =)

We spent the rest of the day relaxing at home (OMG my ankles were so sore after the hike) and playing with the cats. Then in the evening Jaimie and Jeff came over and we played Watson & Holmes (where we were all completely out-deduced by James).