Saturday, March 8, 2014

Tokyo, Japan

The Asian adventure begins!

Japanese House
Downtown Tokyo
Let me first say, I am not here on a normal trip that I planned. This is actually a study trip for a Master’s program that I am currently enrolled in. And although I am excited to be traveling in Asia, I do have quite a bit of focus on learning throughout this trip and not running myself ragged, as I would normally do on a trip of pleasure (for lack of a better term). So, with that being said, the actually things seen and done are going to be a bit lacking in comparison to past entries and trips, but I will try my best to get everything in.

Happy Birthday Megan!
View from SkyTree
Japanese Toilet…too many buttons!
So, Tokyo. Ummm, underwhelming? I didn’t really know what to expect from this city except that I don’t care for Asian food, which seems to be a problem for some people to accept. I am open to trying new things, but I’ve has Asian food of various varieties before, and I just don’t care for Japanese food. With that being said, I have had Ramen, ordering from a machine before entering the restaurant. Interesting and not too bad. The servers are so nice and you don’t tip in Japan. I still haven’t figured out why I’m so excited about not tipping, when the only place you really tip in is the U.S. because we are idiots and expect money from others for everything. Anyways, I’ve had lots of rice and edamame, chicken skewers, miso, and tonkatsu, which is pork friend in panko, served on egg and rice. It was actually pretty tasty. Beyond that, Japan has provided a pretty good diet thus far, which I suppose I could use anyways!

Sky Tree
Tokyo Subway
The hotel, Grand Prince Takanawa, is also underwhelming for the price. I don’t really know what to expect as far as hotels in Japan, but I guess this is about it. The rooms and beds are small, but clean. So that’s a definite plus. The bath tubs are huge and the toilets do everything but dance for you! Seriously, they have heated seats, deodorize while you use them, have bidets and other things that spray, and I believe play some sort of music…although I could be making the music up. It’s just interesting that for a society which prides itself on being seemingly simple and effective, that a toilet of all things would be so complex. But I’ll take it!

As for the city, the subway and train systems are pretty easy once you figure out how to buy your ticket. Watch where you are walking because people will elbow or push right past you if you are in the way. Stay as far to your left in whichever direction you are going to avoid getting hit. Also, people don’t talk on the trains or really in the train stations. They aren’t really being rude, but I guess it’s a way of respecting the people around you. There is a system for everything and in Tokyo, you fall in line or you get pushed aside…and it’s better to just fall in line!

Asakusa Temple
We went to the Sky Tree, which is only a couple of years old and offers a great 360 view of the city. It’s about $20 to go to the first deck, and another $10 to go up to the top, but for checking it out at night, the first deck was fine and plenty high. The Asabuka temple was another great stop. It’s a huge open temple, very ornate and interesting, very traditional. As you walk in the front gates, there is a street lined with kiosks serving snacks and selling souvenirs. It’s beautiful though because of the natural scents and sights of Japan, along with cherry blossoms hanging from on top of the kiosks and people packed into a small area, all to enjoy the temple and the experience. There was definitely something magical about it.

We also spent an evening in Shibuya, which looks like the “Times Square” of Tokyo, usually what you see in the movies. It was neat to see, but nothing crazy or special per se. We had dinner and then went for drinks in this area.

Temple Gardens
On Saturday, I went on a tour to Mt. Fuji. Excited to just be getting away from the city for a while, Mt. Fuji was going to be an exciting getaway. We traveled for about two hours by bus to the visitor center. There was still a lot of snow and it was pretty chilly, but sunny skies gave us great views of the volcano. We then drove up to the 1st station, which is about 3700ft. We had some more great views of the top, but we couldn’t go any higher because the road was blocked by snow, so that was a bit disappointing. We then went to the Hakone area, which is known for hot springs. We stopped at a very nice hotel for lunch, which was delicious, and then took a gondola ride up near the hot springs, and a boat ride on Ashi Lake. Although the clouds came in briefly, Fuji cleared up for spectacular viewing and picture taking. We then took the bus back to Tokyo, making it about a 13 hour day which was very long and tiring, but well worth the experience, fresh air, and views. Hakone is an area that I would visit again, so the beautiful and peaceful surroundings, and for a chance to go to the hot springs. I think climbing Mt. Fuji would be a neat experience as well.

Tokyo Tower
The last morning, we got up and headed to the fish market. Unfortunately, it was closed due to a holiday. We are not sure which holiday, but nonetheless, no fish market. So we walked around, visited another temple, went to Tokyo Tower, and walked through gardens. At the very least, we road the subway some more and got some exercise walking around…a productive morning I’d say!

Now it’s time to wait around at the hotel for our bus to take us to Narita airport, where we will depart for Shanghai. I’m very excited for a new city and a new experience.

Japanese Gardens
Cherry Blossoms
As I said before, I was underwhelmed by Tokyo, but that was just my experience. It is definitely a place to go once, to see and to have been there once. However, for me, I don’t know that I’ll ever need to come back. Japan is a unique place…and some people love it, and I appreciate that fact, so hopefully they can appreciate my view as well. I will say that Japan has allowed me to learn things about myself and other, and it has reminded me that with experience comes wisdom, which some people will gain in time, but to let their ignorance fly by as I continue to grow and learn.

Dublin, Ireland--Part 2

This is probably my worst effort at adding to my blog…but I wanted to get these pictures up before the entire Asia trip takes over! So many amazing things to see and do in Ireland, yet so little time:)

The Best of Ireland...
Dublin Pride

Dublin Pride


River Dance
River Dance 

Smallest Bar in the World

New Friends

Dance Party!

Friendly Chaps!
Ring of Kerry
Ring of Kerry

Ring of Kerry

Cliffs of Moher

What they should look like...
Best view from the cliffs

At the Cliffs of Moher

Guinness Factory

Pouring Guinness properly

It was actually very tasty!

37 Dawson
Time for fun
Delicious dinner
Sing and Dance!
No time for rest!


Inside the prison

Don't leave me here!

Dublin, Ireland--Part 1

Dublin, Cork, Blarney Castle, Cohb

I will admit, Ireland is not a place that was at the top of my "to do" travel list. However, it is a magical place that will suck you in very quickly. There are many different ways that you can see Ireland, and one of the most popular plans is to rent a car and drive the island yourself. This was a thought, but Kim and I decided to go a different route and plant ourselves in Dublin, taking day trips to other areas of the country. There are definitely positives to this method, but we do wish that we had driven, at least part of the trip. I will explain how we did Ireland, and things that we would change...starting with more research and thought behind this part of the planning, and calling the actual companies instead of relying on a travel agent.
Blarney Castle 

We flew into Dublin later in the evening and headed straight to our hotel. We had an early tour the next morning and had to figure out how to get around on public transportation with little guidance. We stayed at the Amberley Guesthouse. Like many of the hotels in Ireland, it was an old house turned into a hotel, with about 20 rooms available. It wasn't the best place we've ever stayed, but on a budget, it was what we could afford. We were staying on the north side of the river, which is opposite of the famous "Temple Bar", the tourist bar/club area. Dublin has a decent tram system that will get you around most of the city and we had a pretty easy ride from our hotel to the train station where our tours met each morning.
Blarney Gardens

The first morning, we were up before 6am, heading to the train station for our first tour to Cork, Blarney Castle, and Cohb (pronounced "cove"). We were using Railtours, which take you by train across the country to a location where a bus will take you on the tour for the day and then take you back to the train for the trip back to Dublin. Each of these tours was 12+ hours because of was going to be a long three days!

Last port of the Titanic
Cork was merely a pit-stop and a quick city tour. It was a neat city, but we didn't get to spend any time there. We were headed to Blarney Castle and planning on kissing the Blarney Stone. Kissing the blarney stone is said to give you the gift of eloquent speech. (We had hoped for something more magical than speech, but it was worth a smooch anyways!) The grounds of the castle are covered in streams and gardens, very beautiful landscape. We walked around for a couple of hours, climbed through the castle, which was much like you'd expect a medieval castle to be, and went to the top to lay down and kiss the stone. The view from the top was amazing and definitely an experience. We then had lunch and a pint, before doing a little shopping and heading back to the bus for the remainder of the tour. The last part of the tour took us to Cohb, which is the last port of the Titanic before it's fateful journey. They had a small museum about the Titanic and the port town was bustling with action. We were able to grab a scoop of ice cream and enjoy the sun by the water before having to get back on the train. We had a 2+ hour train ride back to Dublin, and arriving after 8pm, we decided to grab a quick dinner and head back to the hotel since we were back on the train the next morning.