Asia 2019, Japan, Shirakawago, Takayama

Takayama ->Shirakawago Travel Day

Whenever I think of our night in Shirakawago I smile. It truly was one of the highlights of the trip.  I have so many pictures from this day, so prepare yourself! But as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s pick it back up in Takayama.

We woke up early and Sal took a soak. We checked out and had the hotel hold our luggage since our bus didn’t leave until the early afternoon. Even though we were traveling without our big suitcase thanks to luggage forwarding, we still had a big heavy backpack, our smaller rolling carry on bag, another backpack with gifts, and a shopping bag with more souvenirs. Well, the woman checking us out took all of it in one go. One go! She was little, but she was strong! She showed us her guns after I made a comment about her strength. It was pretty funny and we all got a giggle out of it.

We decided to check out the outdoor market for breakfast. They have two different markets that run almost every day. The market we went to consisted of a bunch of tables by the river selling snacks and some shops that opened to also sell food. Doing research before the trip I saw it mentioned that walking and eating is rude. I’m here to tell you that I saw non-Westerners doing it! We have manners (usually) and moved to the side to eat all of our goodies.

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We had a few courses, including our first octopus balls (takoyaki). So hot, but so delicious!

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IMG_20190523_100004IMG_20190523_101029IMG_20190523_101039We had some other treats, as well. It was all yummy.

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Some sort of marshmallow deliciousness.

IMG_20190523_103406I love going to markets for meals in Asia and getting to sample different things. Everything is almost always so fresh and tasty. As we were walking some students stopped us for questions again and to practice their English. There weren’t any gifts this time, but they spoke better English than the ones at the shrine in Kyoto.

 

We were going to take a craft class that taught you how to make the fake food they have in the window displays at restaurants, but when we got there we found they were inexplicably closed. This was the third or fourth time a place was closed without any reason we could distinguish. Ah well. We ended up wandering a bit and checked out a historical government building. You can read about it here. It was the last one of its kind left. The people working there were incredibly kind. We wandered through each of the rooms and looked at the gardens.

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Enjoyed the gardens. Could have done without the torture room.
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Probably the cutest bathroom sign. Ever.

We were thirsty, so we stopped for some refreshment and air conditioning. It was so hot that day. I don’t know what this drink was – I guess a version of lemonade, but not made with lemons – but I had two because it was delicious.

 

IMG_20190523_115533Went to a very local ramen place for lunch and had to wait as it was busy. While we were waiting an old guy showed up and cut in line. In Japan! It was slightly shocking. He sat himself down and nobody spoke English, but it was clear they were trying to tell him to wait his turn as we were next in line. We decided to go, though, because it was really slow there and we didn’t have a ton of time. Instead we found a different restaurant. The woman running the place spoke English well and asked where we were from so she could add it to her globe. Cute.

We made our way back to the hotel to get our luggage, then walked to the bus station. Taking the bus was very easy as inside the station there were people that spoke some English and could explain where to wait. The bus arrived a few minutes before our departure time, of course. We had pre-booked and he had our name without any issues. He turned the AC off, though, when he arrived at the bus station, so it got hot quickly. It was only a few minutes and then we were on our way to Shirakawago! The scenery on the way was very nice and at the end we went through a very long tunnel.

Our traditional Japanese Inn, Shiroyamakan, was right across the street from the bus station. We arrived and were given green tea and checked into our traditional (corner) room.

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A small stream outside that you could hear in the room. Very relaxing.

This Inn has been in the family for generations. One of the daughters spoke very good English, which was a nice surprise. The accommodations included a car tour of Shirakawago, given by the Dad. No, he didn’t speak English. Instead he had a recording he played. It actually worked out great. He would make a few photo stops for us and pause the narration.

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Bright light!
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Remember that museum we went to in Takayama? Well, these were the real deal and people live here.

Dad took pics of us and we quickly discovered he had a sense of humor and did know a little bit of English — all cheese related. “Say…BLUE CHEESE!” “Say….SWISS CHEESE!” “Say…AMERICAN CHEESE!” before each pic. The man knew his English when it came to cheese, but that was pretty much the extent of it. I couldn’t help giggling. Every single time. Even when he was taking pictures of the other couple. I couldn’t help it – it was funny how into it he was! We continued on our drive.

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more2more1IMG_20190523_162413IMG_20190523_163358It was  honestly one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen. Between the unique homes and the mountains it was, in a word…wow.

Another car showed up after we had walked out and sweet talked the guard into having one minute to look at the view.

After we got back to the Inn we went for a walk in the little town. Of course I did a little shopping. Good grief. I never considered myself a shopaholic before, but in Japan I was really on the verge of being one.

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The shop had a mascot!

 

It was getting buggy, so we headed on back. It was time to get ready for dinner. We got changed into our traditional wear (yukata), and were brought to a private room for our multi-course meal (Kaiseki).

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IMG_20190523_175954That printout on the table had all of the courses listed. The food just kept coming and coming! We cooked some for ourselves, too.

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I know you all probably think I’m a wimp when it comes to trying food after you saw everything Sal was willing to try in Kyoto at the BBQ, however I did try bear meat and I also tried everything at our dinner.

At one point the two sisters came into the room to take some of the dishes, and the sister that spoke English chatted and asked us some questions about where we were from, etc.  The one who spoke English well (I think her name tag said #4 daughter – not joking) asked how long we had been married and commented on how happy and nice she thought we were.  It may have been the nicest compliment we’ve gotten from a stranger; I was totally surprised.  Since she was being so friendly I decided to go out on a limb and ask her something I as dying to know: did she watch Terrace House? Terrace House is a Japanese reality show on Netflix that’s sort of like a G-rated version of The Real World, where strangers live together hoping to find love or achieve some other goal (it’s usually love related, though). Well, what followed was probably the most fun interaction I’d had with a local in any foreign country to date. The young woman could not believe I watched it and would translate back and forth for her sister. It was so much fun talking about the cast (they were filming the new one in Tokyo when we were there – I joked about trying to find the house) and just sort of having a conversation like you’d have with a friend back home. Having said that, nobody I know watches Terrace House, so it was that much more fun because I could finally talk to someone about it. Sal said we talked for 20-30 minutes. He kept laughing at how excited we all were to talk about it with each other. It’s a silly thing to connect with someone with, but it was great to make that bond. You can see my new friend at the end of this clip. I had no idea until I just watched it! Haha.

With full bellies we made our way back to our room. They had laid our mats out for us:

IMG_20190523_200156Of course there were some bugs, but I expected it. Sal fell asleep right away and started snoring, and all I could think about was if any insects were going to find a way into his mouth. I hid under the comforter! Of course eventually I had to go to the bathroom. It was a shared bathroom (our only one of the trip), but thankfully they had a Western toilet. Sharing a bathroom wasn’t a big deal at all and now I know and would do it again; it was extremely clean. When you go to the bathroom you switch out your regular sandals to bathroom sandals for cleanliness. I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to fall asleep laying on the floor, but it was actually pretty comfortable. Eventually the sound of the brook brought on sleep. In my mind I like to think I fell asleep with a smile on my face.

A truly spectacular day.

Asia 2019, Japan, Takayama

Takayama Day 1

That bed was not comfortable, and Sal continued to snore like he was getting paid to do so. Whee! Luckily, the day improved.

We took a bus to Hida Minzoku Mura Folk Village. Here’s the description:

In a village-like atmosphere, the museum features buildings such as the former village head’s house, logging huts, storehouses and a number of gassho-zukuri farmhouses. These massive farmhouses are named after their steep thatched roofs which resemble a pair of hands joined in prayer (“gassho”). They were moved here from nearby Shirakawago, where gassho-zukuri houses are the reason for the region’s World Heritage status.

The views were stellar.
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Asia 2019, Japan, Takayama, Uncategorized

Kyoto ->Takayama Travel Day

Today was our transfer day. We decided to have our big suitcase forwarded to Tokyo so we wouldn’t need to take it with us the next 5 days, schlepping on trains and busses. The luggage forwarding in Japan is a real plus and reasonably priced. I think you can forward for up to a week in advance — very convenient!

Our first train was the bullet train, which in retrospect was unfortunate because we went from a great, smooth ride to the local train that was extremely jerky. There really wasn’t an alternative, though. Back to the bullet train!

IMG_20190521_111642The ride was smooth, fast, and comfortable. Can’t recommend highly enough. We enjoyed the scenery.

Continue reading “Kyoto ->Takayama Travel Day”

Asia 2019, Japan, Kyoto

Kyoto Day Four – Gardens, Beef & Sake

It’s funny how sometimes the unplanned days end up being the best ones. Ok, not sometimes…often! We had originally planned on a day trip out of the city, but the weather forecast was for rain all day. We decided to skip the rainy travel and just explore more of Kyoto since there is so much to see. It was a very good decision. I believe this is the day when we really discovered the attraction, peace, and tranquility that you can find in Japanese gardens. I’m a huge fan now.

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Asia 2019, Japan, Kyoto

Kyoto Day 3 – Tea Ceremony

Today was laundry day. One of the perks of the hotel was free self serve laundry. That was great! The bad part is the dryers took forever. I’m talking hours. I got the feeling that most people air dried their laundry. Eventually we had to just hang stuff up in our room to finish drying because we needed to get back to Gion for our tea ceremony. We took the bus there and then found a cute little restaurant for lunch.

We sat at the counter again and the staff couldn’t have been nicer. When we paid I said, “Oishi!”, which means delicious. People would love when we would say that and took it as the highest compliment. It literally was one of the few words I knew, other than some numbers and greetings. It really came in handy because so many of our meals were oishi!

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Asia 2019, Japan, Katsura Imperial Villa, Kyoto

Kyoto Day 2 – Katsura Imperial Villa

We didn’t get up until 6:00, which meant we were finally over the jet lag. It took a week! We were both quite sore. We decided to take the morning off. We eventually went to the pharmacy and bought Sal an ankle support bandage and me more ice packs. It seemed to help a little bit.

Our plan for the day was to go to Katsura Imperial Villa. We had made a reservation weeks beforehand. We took the bus again, but this time it was much easier. We stopped at a random restaurant on the way, where everyone in the kitchen greeted people when they entered. It was sorta funny — like the Japanese version of Cheers. Sal had ramen again.

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We walked from there to the Villa, but with Google giving us wrong directions resulting in extra walking. Scroogled again! We were early so we waited a bit. Then we began the tour. You can click the link above to read more about the villa. Our guide was extremely nice and the gardens were beautiful. In Japan most gardens don’t have flowers. Rather they have perfectly manicured bushes and trees and at least one water feature. This place had ponds, bridges, old tea houses, etc. There were actually a decent number of stone steps. I was happy it wasn’t raining, because it would have been slippery and with my luck I probably would have fallen into the pond. They don’t want you to walk on the moss there, as it is sacred, so it’s important to watch where you step. I wish they would have had a place to have tea because it was incredibly peaceful. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

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We thoroughly enjoyed the tour and highly recommend it. Afterward we were trying to decide where to go. We decided since we weren’t so far away we’d try to go to the Bamboo Forrest. The problem was that we had a walk to get to a bus stop and we were already sore just from walking up and down in the villa gardens. We decided to have them call a taxi for us, but got lucky and someone was dropped off as we were getting ready to walk back and request it. The driver didn’t speak English and it took a little while, but he eventually figured out where we wanted to go. The taxi drivers in Japan dress very nicely, often in suits, and sometimes even wear gloves and/or a chauffeur’s hat. It was extremely crowded where he dropped us off, and the international travel police (again, that’s me!) noticed he didn’t give us the small change from the bills we gave him. I thought Japanese considered tipping insulting! Not that guy, apparently.

It was a Saturday afternoon and it was extremely crowded, but I’m still glad we went.

It’s sad when I crack myself up so much.

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Picture taken shortly after monkey comment in video… OK, not really. A stick had poked him in the eye.

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Crowds. Note the woman in the kimono? This happened all over Kyoto. Usually Chinese tourists wore them.

It wasn’t exactly peaceful there. When we got to the part where you turn around and walk back, we took a little detour to the side instead. There weren’t as many trees, but there also weren’t as many people.

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The black one is a baby bamboo.

It was pleasant walking around there. We could actually hear the hollow sound of the trees hitting each other in the wind. It was very relaxing.

We wandered for a bit, trying to avoid some school kids, and made our way to the water. The next day they were having some sort of boat parade and they were preparing some of the boats. We decided to walk back up to where the shops were and we had our first matcha ice cream.

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It was the best from the trip, IMO.

After our treat we shopped a little and then walked to the train station to take the train back to Kyoto station. By this time we were sore again and needed liquid medicine. We discovered a cocktail bar at a hotel and I taught the mixologist how to make a Final Ward (my favorite) and he taught me how to make a Rolls Royce (his favorite). Another fun interaction. He really liked the Final Ward and made sure to write down the ingredients and proportions. Now I’ve taught people in both Japan and Australia; it’s my little way of giving back. Some people donate to charities.

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He did a good job!

We then knew we needed food, so back to the train station we went. We decided to go to the same area as the night before as we saw a OKONOMIYAKI (Japanese layered pancake) restaurant we wanted to try. I always thought that you cook them yourself on the hot top of the table, but this place had it already cooked and the hot plate in the table just kept it warm.

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Sal chose one with egg.
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I chose one with seafood.
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The sake came in an interesting bowl.

We were chatting away during dinner and I said I didn’t understand how there weren’t more chubby people in Japan with all this amazing food. Sal immediately pointed one out (not me). We still have a lot more chubby dubbies back home.

We enjoyed dinner then walked back to the hotel to listen to the live music again. There was a French little person staying at our hotel that we saw a few times. I only note it because I noticed in Kyoto there were three other dwarfs I saw while we were sightseeing. Was it just some weird coincidence? Why did I find it interesting? Hard telling.

I once again iced the knee and we both slept like rocks after our long day.

Asia 2019, Fushimi Inari Shrine, Japan, Kyoto

Kyoto Day 1 – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Note: I’ve been dreading writing about this day because I was an idiot and paid for it basically the rest of the whole trip. Learn from my mistakes, people.

I got almost 9 hours of sleep and it was glorious! I woke up at 5:00, but that was OK because we needed an early start. We went to 7-11, then took our food with us to the train station and caught the local train (crowded with school kids) to Fushimi Inari Shrine. This shrine is very popular because of all of the torii gates.

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Asia 2019, Hong Kong, Japan, Kyoto

Hong Kong -> Kyoto Travel Day

My jet lag wasn’t over yet – only five hours of sleep. Oh well, it could be worse. I was up at 3:00 a.m. though. We woke up very early, checked out quickly, and took a cab to the train station.  This was the only time this trip that we were given an estimate on how much the fare would be and it was actually lower. We left so early it was strange seeing empty streets during daylight hours in Hong Kong! We took the Airport Express back to Hong Kong Airport and it couldn’t have been easier. The apartment high rise portion of the city seemed like something out of a science fiction movie.

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Asia 2019, Hong Kong

Hong Kong Day Three – Anybody Hungry?

All of my pics from this day are of food.
Warning: this post might make you hungry.

 

My most important note of this day? “10 hours of sleep.” Boy did it feel good. Sal was totally jealous. It was about time I slept better than him, though. Sorry, Sal.

We decided to go for Dim Sum at this place I saw on a few different videos on YouTube: Social Place. They are known for their cute and tasty food. As we left the hotel and headed outside the humidity hit me hard. It was almost hard to breathe; it was just next level. Luckily we didn’t have to walk far to reach our destination because I was starting to feel iffy. Sal said we might have to rethink retiring to a country with high humidity. Hey may have a point. The good news is the restaurant was in a mall, with sweet, sweet AC. Have I mentioned the huge number of malls there ? There are malls attached to subway stations, malls attached to business offices, malls attached to residential spaces, and malls that are their own buildings. Lots and lots of malls. If you’re a certain type of shopper, Hong Kong is for you.

We got to the restaurant before it opened and perused the menu. Soon they opened and sat us. Not a ton of English spoken here, but the menus had it and that’s all that matters. This restaurant had a time limit for tables as well. We’d basically made our choices while waiting, so it wasn’t a problem.

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I almost felt guilty eating this little cutie. Almost. This little piggy was delicious.

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Hey, wait. Is that a…
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Yes, it is a pigeon head. He did not eat it, but he sure looks happy holding it, doesn’t he?
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Dessert bun with a caramel filling–so gooooood.

The presentation of the food was fantastic. A few tables down from us they got the flaming pineapple with beef:

We thought we would walk off our big lunch at Kowloon Park, which was nearby. This was a bad idea because it was so freaking hot and the park was on a hill. Ah well. We walked around some, saw some birds, watched some men practicing some sort of fighting, and took some pics of interesting statues. Where are those pictures? Good question. They appear to be missing. We also noticed a couple of videos missing yesterday. I’m worried what else is missing as we get further into the trip and review the photos and videos. It’s very upsetting.

Deep breath. Deep breath. Sorry for the sidetrack. Back to the food!

After the park we decided to do a little shopping. We went to a lovely tea shop and got a gift for my friend who was watching the cats for us since she’s English and a tea addict. The women working at the shop were so friendly and helpful!

Walking back to the hotel a Hong Kong man walked by wearing a shirt that said, “Lift Heavy Shit”. Not gonna lie. I giggled wondering if he knew what it said or not. We often see people wearing shirts with English words, and a lot of times the English isn’t correct…which makes us think they don’t really know what they are wearing sometimes. Well, I thought it was funny. Probably had to be there.

We got back to the hotel and cool, cool air conditioning. We showered and changed for our fancy dinner at Man Wah Restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. We chose this place because of the awesome views, great food reviews, and the fact that we could get 1/2 a Peking Duck (most places you have to get the whole duck and that is way too much duck for two people).

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My handsome dinner date.

 

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This was their signature charcoal/gin cocktail. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was delicious.
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Shrimp spring rolls.

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Hello, handsome!
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Our eyes rolled back into our heads. They were that good.
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The rest of the duck was used in these lettuce cups. It was very filling!
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The egg tarts – our first – were so yummy.
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The little extras cookies at the end came in a bird cage. Cute presentation!

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And that’s how we ended our time in Hong Kong. No egg waffle – way too stuffed – but what a fantastic meal!