Thursday, February 26, 2015

Finishing up the Seoul Chapter

What in the world is it about flying that makes me want to write so much?! I suppose, and maybe I’ve said this before, that actually having time where I can’t surf the internet, I can’t really GO anywhere, means that I have time to actually spend with my thoughts. And it’s just my personality that I want to write when I think… Anyway, I’m on my way home from Korea now. What a wonderful trip.

Honestly, I knew I’d enjoy being back in Korea but you know how sometimes you hype something up and then it just doesn’t live up to expectations? You tell everyone its great because you can’t admit you spent that much time/money on an experience and it’s actually kind of a let down. And its worse because you yourself had such high expectations for it. I was a bit nervous that this would be one of those… 

But, it wasn’t! The whole trip was exactly perfect. For one thing, I love Jessica. She was the perfect hostess and travel companion. I never got sick of her (which is amazing for me, spending two weeks with ANYONE can get old… I need Chelsea time!), and we have a really great balance of personality. She is laid back, go with the flow (but not too much!), and I’m the crazy type-A that needs to plan every day. I was able to allow myself time to recharge and relax because she didn’t mind doing the same. 

It was also nice that I’d been there before and knew exactly what I wanted to do. I never felt like I wasted time, because I had the things on my list that I wanted to do/see, and I was able to do those while also actually relaxing. Relaxation can be hard for me sometimes! This is true in all aspects of my life: if I’m not accomplishing something, somehow, I am wasting time. But that’s not true. This trip was a great time for me to get away from work, get away from real life, and not only enjoy one of my favorite places, but also to simply RELAX.

Being back in Seoul itself was great. I generally try to not go back to places I’ve been before. After all, if I’m going to spend thousands of dollars to go somewhere, I feel like I should go somewhere new! Add to my ever-growing list of countries I’ve been to. And I felt a little like that for this trip. The side-trip to Japan actually was perfect for that reason. I was able to go somewhere new, while also enjoying a city that I love. 

I have a lot of memories in Seoul, obviously. Since I’ve been back in the states, I’ve missed being in Seoul. There are so many things that are amazing about living there! Being back was a strange kind of closure, a year and a half after leaving it. I was able to come back and enjoy what I missed, but also realize that I’m actually exactly where I need to be in life, both physically as well as professionally. Being back in Korea (to live), while fun, wouldn’t be the right move for me. I love Austin, and I love my job. I know I’m in the right place.

Spending a little more time in Seoul was great also, because it gave me a chance to reflect on my time living there, the myriad of experiences and memories I’d made, and realize that no matter where I am in life, I’ll always have those, and Seoul will always have a part of my heart. I hadn’t realized it, but I don’t think I ever got “closure” when I left. In a way, I did. In a way that I was able to cope with leaving, but this trip kind of cemented it. So many complex emotions going on!

Anyway, this is a short entry, I just wanted to jot down how great I’m feeling, despite leaving. I feel like I got everything I wanted to out of the trip, and I’m very much looking forward to going home, being in my own space, and having a bit of Chelsea time!

Don’t worry, though. I’ll be back soon. I’ve got a business trip to the UK and Ireland coming up in two short weeks! I’ll be working for most of it, but as always when I travel, I’ll be blogging :) Plus, I’m going to get to spend my birthday in London with one of my favorite people!! 

Cheers,

Chelsea

Last Few Days in Seoul

Since we got back from Japan, Jessica and I have been seriously enjoying the freedom to do as much (or as little) as we want on vacation. Since these days have been filled with a lot of relaxing, I figured I'd do one blog on the last 4 days or so.

Thursday:
Thursday after we got into Incheon, we decided to wait to change our Japanese Yen to Korean Won until we got into the city to the bank. The exchange rate at the airport wasn't very favorable, so we headed to the airport bus instead. We each had reserved enough won in our wallets to get us a ride home, but the rest was in yen. We caught the bus home without issue. However, when we got off the bus, we walked by Diaso and realized that it was closed. After a moment of confusion, we realized that Thursday was Seollal (Lunar New Year) day. Thursday, as well as Friday right after, are both "red days" in Korea. Basically government holidays where nearly everything is closed. Banks included. We realized that we would not be able to exchange our yen until Monday at the earliest. Oops!! Thankfully most places take my Chase Visa credit card (no foreign transaction fees! woohoo!) so while not ideal, it would be okay.

We headed to her apartment and spent most of the day just relaxing. We couldn't be bothered to make food, and since 99% of restaurants were closed we decided to order McDonald's for delivery. I always thought this was super interesting that they do this in Korea, but never experienced it when I lived here. Jessica's coworkers helped her set up her account a few months ago, and we decided to take advantage of it. After all, girls' gotta eat!

That evening, we met up with Alana, the other foreign teacher in Jessica's school that we had met for Butterfinger's last week, and another girl, Gretchen, for a 4D movie! Jessica hadn't been to a 4D movie yet, and I wanted to see Kingsman, so we got tickets before Japan and went to the theatre Thursday night. We got some butter popcorn and a coke and headed in. We went into the theatre and realized there were some Koreans in our seats. After attempting to tell them to move, we realized we were in the wrong theatre. The four of us all squawking about in the theatre was kind of hilarious. We managed to make it into the correct theatre and got our seats.

The movie itself was... interesting. I actually liked the style of it and it was pretty good until the end. I won't go into a lot of detail here, but, ultimately it could have been a lot better. The 4D effects were cool, though. When there was gun fire, you could feel pokes in your back and even on your ankles/feet. There was whooshes of air, and even a little water mist when there was a splash in the movie. It was a fun experience!

When we left the movie, we decided to get some food. We considered going to my old neighborhood for BBQ, but realized that it would probably be closed for New Years. We went to a couple of restaurants in the area and everything was closing/closed. We decided Itaewon would be our best bet for open food, so we took the subway there. We had Turkish gyros which were delicious! Then we went to a bar with way too expensive drinks and hung out for a while. We took a cab home and that was Thursday.

Friday: 
Friday was a shopping day. I don't shop a lot in the states; I don't particularly enjoy it, and I'm pretty frugal. But when you've been saving for a trip and know that you've got money set aside, and there are things you can buy here that you can't back home, well, you let loose a little! We went to Gangnam Station and after having lunch with my former coworker (& soon to be roomie in Austin), we hit up the shops! Mostly I wanted to get some makeup, but I ended up with so many goodies. I got some cute cheap home decor things from Daiso, a pale yellow handbag, 5 pairs of socks (so cute!), another ring to replace mine lost in Japan (this one being 5,000W instead of 25,000), makeup, more makeup, and probably plenty of other things I can't think of right now. But I got a lot of good deals and definitely finished up happy! Jessica is a great shopping partner.

We walked home in the beautiful sunshine, enjoying the weather. That night, we got cute and decided to go out. We wanted to get some American food, so we headed to HBC to get Bonny's Pizza. Unfortunately, we took a little too long to get ready and their kitchen was closed by the time we got there. We went to Phillie's for a burger, but they didn't have any fries (you can't have a burger without fries!), so finally we ended up at Brooklyn Burger. It was delicious!

After dinner, we headed to Itaewon to get some drinks. We ended up at a place called Thursday Party. I have no idea if this place existed when I lived there, but I'd never heard of it. It reminded me SO MUCH of a college bar. It was packed, kind of gross, but cheap and guaranteed to meet people. Within 30 seconds we were hit on, and within a minute of that, got hit on again. Everyone was pretty drunk, it seemed. A British guy and his friend approached us, but I was totally NOT feeling that. Eventually, we chatted with a couple of Korean guys. Around 3am, we headed to a Noraebang, one of the things on my bucket list to do while in Korea again. That lasted a while then we got back to Jessica's place around 6am. Staying out til the sun (almost) comes up - check.

Saturday:
When we finally woke up around noon on Saturday, it was super rainy. Like, disgustingly rainy and so COLD. We agreed that snuggled up in bed with Netflix was in order. While our time back in Korea (since Japan) has been LESS crazy than while in Japan, we were definitely due for a completely chill day. We tried to figure out how to order pizza for delivery, but ultimately decided to just walk down the road to Pizza Etang (my favorite of the Korean pizza places).

I ordered a large pizza (which, to be fair, is actually like an American medium...) and a Coke. I paid, and they kind of wandered away. Jessica waved her arms and was like "Hello! I need to order, too!" The guys literally gawked. I think they were so shocked that we BOTH ordered a pizza. We waited for our pizzas and laughed at how much we get judged by Koreans. We looked up how to say "fat" in Korean (gee-bang) and giggled as we left, each with a pizza box and bottle of Coke.

It was 100% worth the stares and whispers when we got in and got to taste the deliciousness. Also, in our defense, this was both lunch and dinner. Does that make it better, or worse....? We laid in bed, ate pizza, and watched The Heirs (the K-Drama I've been into while in Korea). It was a perfect day for laziness!

Sunday:
Sunday, we woke up "early" (by our recent standards) and decided to hit the jjimjilbang (spa); another thing to check off my list! Jessica is lucky and lives within walking distance to a really nice one. I had read about this place - called Spa Lei - while I was living here, but I always liked Dragon Hill and it was more convenient for me. But, this didn't require any transportation, and it's female only, so we went there instead.

I've always liked jjimjilbangs (after getting over my initial hesitation!) and this was Jessica's first ever time to go! We splurged for body scrubs (an additional 30,000W on top of the 14,000W entrance fee), but so worth it. We went in and tried out some of the baths before getting our scrub. It has been about 2 years since I got a scrub, but the memory came back to me quickly after it began. Certain parts were super ticklish, some were just awkward, but damn they really remove several layers of your poor epidermis!

We enjoyed the jjimjilbang for a couple hours; it was a very relaxing experience! We headed home and decided to go for makgeolli (rice wine), another thing on my list. We found a place within walking distance of her apartment (seriously, she has the best location!). It was called Better than Beef. We got cute, wearing our new shoes we found for 19,000W on Friday, and a good thing too because the restaurant was super nice. Probably the nicest restaurant I'd been to in Korea!

I had read about this place online, so I knew the price range. Thankfully, the information I read was correct. We ordered Samgyopsal (pork belly) for two for 19,000W and a bottle of makgeolli for 12,000W. While we didn't leave super full, the meat was great quality and we really enjoyed the meal. We also got some homemade ricotta that they make in-house (I am given to understand). The meal was great!

When we finished, we decided that we looked too good to just go home! We wandered around a bit until we found a bar and got a drink. This was certainly less chaotic than Friday night, but we still had a great time. I had somek - soju and beer - and it was great! I seriously think that soju makes Korean beer (which kind of sucks by itself) so much better! We got home fairly early - around midnight.

Monday:
My last full day in Korea!! I woke up both sad and anxious to make the most of the day. After another episode of The Heirs (if you can't lay in bed and watch TV on vacation, when can you?!), and went to Myeongdong around noon. Somehow, we managed to spend 5 hours there. I seriously do not know how we did that.

I ended up getting some makeup, a cute top, and (uhhh) some other stuff? I really wanted to find a potato tornado, and I thought for SURE I could find one there, but no luck! This ended up being the only food item I didn't get to eat in Korea that I'd wanted to. We got a snack and then headed back to Jessica's to get ready for my last night in Korea.

We decided to go back to my favorite BBQ restaurant again for my last dinner. Jessica had really enjoyed it, we all know that I LOVE it, and Jessica's friend/coworker Alana wanted to try it. We headed there around 8pm, and thoroughly enjoyed our feast!

When we first got into the restaurant, I'd noticed a table of three middle-aged Korean men looking at us. This in itself isn't strange; I generally just ignore it. One of the guys was REALLY obvious though, so I said Hello to him. He waved and was very happy to talk to me. He told us that he wanted to buy us a drink. I looked at the girls and we all shrugged our shoulders - why not? He called over the guys working at the restaurant and there was some conversation. Ultimately, beer did not appear on our table.

I can't remember who said it, but it was suggested that perhaps the men thought we were... "women of the night". The thought was so preposterous to me, but the next interaction kind of confirmed these suspicions. The man came over to our table and asked if he could sit. We didn't really know what to say, so let him sit at our table. The guys working came over and caught my eye and asked if I wanted them to get him to leave (a prime example of language not actually being necessary to communicate effectively; I knew exactly what he was asking but not a word of English was spoken). I shrugged my shoulders; most of the time when Koreans want to chat with us, its about 5 minutes and they leave. I don't mind satisfying their need to practice their English, or show off to their buddies.

After about 10 minutes, though, I could tell this guy wasn't going to go away. He proceeded to RANK US according to our attractiveness. He even told Alana she looked "strange"! I told him he was mean and we were all most beautiful. He tried to explain himself but we were all kind of over it. I got up to get more sides and told the guys to have him leave now. They came over and said something to him in Korean. A conversation commenced and the guy looked back at me and asked "You told him to tell me to leave?" Ratted out!!! I smiled and said "We need to eat our dinner!" He left as graciously as could be managed when he just got removed from our table.

He definitely went back to his table and talked about us to his friends. I heard "meegook" which is Korean for "American". Also, other tables were watching them and glancing at us intermittently. Greeeeaaaaaat.... We decided to just forget about it and have another drink! After MUCH food and drink, we paid (15,000W EACH!! So cheap!) and headed for our next destination: Dongdaemun Night Market!

Neither of the other girls had been to the market, and I was excited to show them. We took a taxi over from the restaurant. I was disappointed that the tents that usually litter the sidewalks were not there. However, we definitely found plenty of stuff inside the huge buildings full of stalls.

I was looking for two things on this shopping trip: an olive green jacket, and a maroon chunky knit scarf. I found a cute jacket at a stall and asked to try it on. The lady in the stall was nice but definitely a saleswoman. She had the jacket listed at 180,000W. I knew I couldn’t pay anywhere near that price. In my head, I thought I would maybe pay 70,000W for it. I told her sorry, no. I wanted to get Jessica and Alana’s opinions on it, but I also wanted to see other jackets. I did linger a bit, and the women kept lowering her price. She even bagged the jacket up for me and put it in my hands. Literally, she had no shame. At one point (I lingered for probably 15 minutes), she tried to reach into my bag and get my wallet. I smacked her hands and laughed and told her No! 

After much back and forth, Jessica and Alana finally showed back up and I got their opinions. They loved it. By this time, the lady had gone down to 60,000W!! BUT that was her cash price. I needed to pay with a card. We finally agreed to 60,000W on the card, plus 10,000W cash. Less than half the price. I think that once I try the jacket on with the appropriate outfit (not jeans and tennis shoes like I wore to the market), I’ll love it even more. It’s very unique and fun. 

Now I had one last item - the scarf. I wanted this scarf because I had gotten one when I lived in Korea before, worn it to China and all around Korea, LOVED IT, and then lost it at a club. I have never forgotten how much I loved it, so it was the perfect opportunity to get another. The last stall, on the last floor, I finally found one! It was originally 18,000W cash, but I got him to 14,000W card. Could have saved 1,000W if I’d cash, but I needed to save cash to take the bus to the airport the next day. We got home around 2:30am, and went to sleep shortly thereafter. 

What a successful the last night, and indeed the whole last week, in Korea! 

Cheers,

Chelsea

Friday, February 20, 2015

Japan: Final Thoughts & Coming "Home"

Well, Thursday has come and gone, and we are back in Korea. Our flight from Kansai Airport was at 7:50am, so we actually had to get up at 4:30am; breakfast was delivered to our room at 5am; we left the hotel at 5:15am; caught the first train to the airport at 5:30am; arrived at the airport at 6:30am; and left at 7:50am.

Since nothing super interesting happened during that time (besides almost forgetting to mail the rental SIM card back before leaving!), I'm going to sum up my experiences in Japan in this blog.

While the trip was rather short, I think it was really interesting. When I lived in Korea, I never really  had a desire to go to Japan. Koreans don't like the Japanese much; there has been a lot of history between the two, and it's generally comprised of the Japanese oppressing Koreans. The two countries have had political and cultural relationships since ancient times. More recently, and probably what directly contributes to the current negative feelings, are from when Japan took control of Korea in 1910 and hundreds of thousands of Koreans were forced to serve in the military both as soldiers and "comfort women" (sexual slaves). After 35 years, Korea finally got its independence after WWII, but this resulted in the division of Korean into North and South. Since then, there have been deteriorating political ties between South Korea and Japan due to various issues like islands between the two countries and who has rights to them, the Japanese Prime Minister visiting shrines that pay homage to Japanese soldiers killed in WWII - Yasukuni Shrine - and more. Koreans just kind of don't care for the Japanese.

So, when I lived here, I just didn't want to go. I felt a loyalty to Korea; coupled with the not-so-favorable exchange rate, I just didn't think it worthwhile to go to Japan. However, a year and a half removed from Korea, I thought Japan would be a good place to visit! Most importantly, I wanted to eat the food!! My experience there was very positive. Jessica and I made a lot of observations about the differences between the two countries. I think a trip to Japan without having lived in Korea would have still been interesting, but I think having the context of living in Korea made it even more valuable and fascinating.

The people: I found the Japanese to be very nice! I don't see them as quite as interested in foreigners as Koreans. Perhaps this is because they have more tourism than Korea, and are used to foreigners. Maybe they just aren't interested. Either way, they were nice but there were only a handful of them that were willing to speak English with us. Some had a few phrases/words and tried to use them; most just spoke Japanese to us and we guessed at what they were saying.

I also think that the Japanese look different than Koreans. I can't explain why though! Throughout the time we were there, Jessica and I kept trying to pinpoint what it was. Some Japanese have more "western" features, but again I can't really say what exactly those are. I guess a higher percentage of them look like they could be partially white? Jessica thinks the Japanese are shorter, but I'm not sure if I saw a definitive difference. I do think Japanese men have more facial hair. The hairstyles are different. The women seem to embrace their natural looks a bit more. I like that a lot, but I also think Koreans are very beautiful as well! I probably prefer Korean people (having had 300x more exposure to them), but I definitely like an emphasis on natural beauty without a need to alter your looks by plastic surgery (cough, Korea, cough!).

The food: While both countries have a lot of the same dishes, each has their own variations on them. I could go into a lot of detail here, but I'll refrain. I'll just say that I enjoyed all of my meals in Japan, and I also love Korean food. It's a draw.

The landscape: Japan definitely feels more touristy! I mean, we were in Kyoto - which is very touristy - and Seoul is more of a big city than a tourist destination. I actually liked the touristy feel. I guess because it's very lacking in Korea... Osaka was a different story. It was like a small-scale Seoul and I didn't care for it as much. I liked the almost town-feeling of Kyoto (vs. city-feel).

The language: Oh my word, I missed Hangul so much while in Japan!! For reading, Japanese characters are so much more difficult. I hated not being able to even sound-out the characters while there. Listening to Japanese was also more frustrating; again, probably because I couldn't even pick out sounds or words, like I can in Korean. I highly prefer Korean in this regard, but maybe I'd feel different if I spent a long time in Japan.

Compared to other Asian countries: So I've now been to Korea, Japan, and China. Comparing all of them is difficult because each has such distinct characteristics. I think that they all have a lot to offer. For a tourist, I think Kyoto was maybe my favorite, followed by Beijing. I rate Beijing just below Kyoto because it was more chaotic since it was a massive city, whereas Kyoto is a little more relaxed feeling. For staying long-term, of course Korea is my top pick because I actually did it! For historical value, I think I got the most out of China. I mean, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City... how can you top those?! But Kyoto definitely has the upper hand in sheer number of sites.

Anyway, we're back in Korea now and I'll be blogging soon about our activities here. It's Friday morning for me, so I've got 4 full days, plus Tuesday morning - I plan to make the MOST of it!!!

Cheers,
Chelsea

Chelsea in Osaka

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Our last full day in Japan has arrived. After 2 full days in Kyoto, we are finishing up in neighboring Osaka, which is closer to the airport we will depart from (KIX). Since the weather had finally fulfilled its promise of being miserable - ie: cold and wet - we decided to not stress about doing “sightseeing” and rather just enjoy our vacation.

That meant, first and foremost, not rushing to get out the door at the crack of dawn. We got up and went down the street to grab some breakfast items from a nearby bakery. The rain hadn’t started to pound down yet, but there was a drizzle. We grabbed an assortment of goodies then headed back to the hotel. We had gotten two free coffee vouchers from the hotel and Jessica used one while we enjoyed our breakfast at the hotel restaurant/seating area. While we were down there, we head those British “lads” again at the front desk. They didn’t see us, but we heard them talking to the front desk staff. It sounded like they were checking out and gave the staff a bottle of sake that they couldn’t take with them. Too bad we hadn’t run into them; we would have gladly taken the bottle! 

Once finished, we got ready and packed up our stuff. Since we didn’t need to check out until 11am, we decided to make the most of our room and stayed until we needed to leave. We headed out and made a pit stop at a curry house. We’d had a light breakfast and decided that before travel, one really should have a full stomach. Plus, I had been wanting to have tonkatsu (a dish comprised of fried pork cutlet over rice); we’d past this restaurant yesterday and knew we wanted to come back. Jessica loves Japanese curry anyway, so it was a win-win.

We arrived as the restaurant opened and each ordered half-sets of curry. They came quickly and they were delicious! Including a drink the whole set was around 500Y (~$5). A good deal, in my opinion.

We left there and walked along the main street towards Kyoto Station. It was around a mile away, but we had some good scenery as we walked. We walked by another palace/temple place, and I wishes that we’d have been able to go inside, but we had all of our luggage and needed to get to Osaka.

Once we got to the train station, we searched for the right ticket counter. Kyoto Station is quite large and there were hoards of people. We walked by one line (for a bus) that had probably several hundred people in it. Dang!


We got our tickets easily once we found the counter and followed the signs to the correct platform. We boarded and found two of the last remaining seats (not next to each other of course). I wrote yesterday’s blog and we arrived shortly thereafter. It was only about 30 minutes total.

When we got to Osaka Station, we needed to change to another line and head to Tennoji Station. It was supposed to be 190Y, but we weren’t sure if we should walk out of the gates, buy another ticket, then come back in, or if we could add money to our tickets, or what. I found someone official and asked; she told us that we could pay the difference once we got to Tennoji. 

We headed to that platform and rode the train another 20 minutes or so to the south part of Osaka where our hotel was located. We arrived and went to the ticket information desk. When I told the man we needed to pay the additional fare, he showed me a calculator that read 380Y. I shook my head no, and told him 190Y? He proceeded to explain to me, in his best attempt at English, that to transfer from Kyoto to Osaka and then to Tennoji, the additional fare was 380; if you were to go out of the gates and buy another ticket, then it is 190. When he showed the 190 again, I nodded vehemently and pointed to it and said “That’s what we should pay!” He shook his head and again told me the same thing. I basically told him that was ridiculous and we left. 

Our options were thus: pay the fare (more than double what we had planned to pay); ride the subway back to Osaka station, get out, buy the additional ticket, and come back; try and sneak out. Well, being that we are good law abiding Americans, we decided to try and bust out. We found an exit that wasn’t being watched by the jerk I just talked to (okay, really he wasn’t a jerk, just doing his job, but I’m bitter). I let Jessica go first as she put her ticket in the machine, it gave her an X, and she pushed through the plastic mini-doors. In Korea, if you do that, they just kind of give up and go back to normal; however, Japan doesn’t let you get away with it. It started to beep loudly at her, so she went back through the gates. THEN the doors appeared on the other side instead. Some old Japanese ladies were staring at us and one of them went to a help-phone on the wall and called someone. Cripes, here we were, the OBVIOUS foreigners they just told how to pay the fare, and now we’re trying to break out, caught red handed.

My adrenaline was up, but Jessica wasn’t to be deterred. She pushed through and we fled the scene before officials showed up. Our next plan was to pay the additional fare on one ticket, then both of us sneak through. We split the 360Y to 180Y a piece, then went back to the unguarded gate (by now being cleared of any on-looking Japanese women or jerk-officers. Luckily this gate appeared to be for handicapped or something, so it was extra wide, and we put the ticket in and both walked right through.

It was easy, too easy! My heart was pounding. I never break the rules! But it was also exhilarating. Take that, you unfair Japanese ticketing system that tries to scam you if you transfer lines mid-journey!! HAHA! (Jessica, on the other hand, wasn’t even phased about the whole incident…)

Properly endorphin-ed from my brush with the law, I high-tailed it out of there with Jessica laughing about my fear of breaking the rules. We walked to our hotel, which was very close by. The area around the station and the hotel were certainly more urban than Kyoto. While Kyoto was definitely a city, it had a more relaxed feel. Osaka felt like a neighborhood in Seoul. Bright lights, tall buildings, so many people…

When we got to the hotel, I could immediately tell that it wasn’t going to be the same experience as Kyoto. The interior felt very Asian; I can’t quite explain why I feel like this is Asian but it was all while fake-marble with light pink flowers and advertisements everywhere. The lobby was tiny and the guy checking us in spoke some English but was obviously flustered to talk to us.

We got in the elevator and we barely fit. This may have been the smallest elevator I’ve been in, including ones in Europe which are also quite small. We were nose-to-nose, as I had my backpack on and Jessica had her suitcase. We stepped into the hallway on level 4 and I immediately thought of Korea’s “Love Motels” - again, I can’t quite explain why. Maybe it was the room numbers that were lit up according to occupancy outside the room, or maybe just the feel of the place, but I definitely think it was the Japanese version of a “Love Motel”. We opened the door to our room, which was partially covered by a fake tree in the hallway, and sure enough, a Love Motel it was. It was so small and dingy compared to the Kyoto hotel! Honestly, if we had come to this hotel first, I probably wouldn’t have thought much of it, but after being at the really nice hotel in Kyoto, this was crap.

We put down our stuff and had a bit of a rest. It was still kind of miserable outside, but we decided to check out our surrounding area a bit. We walked down to the station area and walked through the shops both on the street level, as well as underground in the station area. We found some cute souvenir chopsticks for 100Y and each got some. After a while, we decided to get some Japanese snacks and go back to the hotel and watch the Korean drama we’d started called Heirs. 


We got a couple varieties of chips, including some that I think were cherry blossom flavor, some mochi ice cream (also cherry blossom flavor?), and of course chocolate. We watched an episode of the show, then I finished the blog and worked on photos. 

After a while, we decided that for our last meal in Japan we wanted to have sushi! Sushi in Japan can be quite expensive (more so for the quality of both fish and chef, more so than the availability of the fish…) so we decided to look for a “kaiten sushi” bar - the conveyor belt sushi.

I found one near Namba Station, and while we didn’t particularly want to travel and spend more money, we decided for our last meal it was worth it. We got on the subway at Tennoji and rode it a few stops to Namba Station, one of the largest in Osaka. We got off and headed for an exit that I thought was in the right direction of where we were going, but once we got to the surface, I was very turned around. Finally, I got my bearings and we walked to the restaurant. 



When we got there, there were tons of people outside waiting. I peeked inside and it was NOT conveyor belt sushi! Stupid Yelp. We decided to walk to another “sushi” place nearby; again, NOT what we were looking for. Giving up on the research side of things, we chose a street that looked busy and walked down it. Low and behold, after a few minutes, I spied a sushi bar and we excitedly went inside.

The host showed us to our seats around the bar and we started to look at all the sushi on offering. Most of it was normal, but there were also baby octopus, octopus tentacle, and some other interesting selections. I got some salmon and tuna, and Jessica ordered a couple of rolls (all the sushi on the belt was just sashimi on rice; no rolls). 

The sushi was good, but not particularly exciting. I think it was the experience of doing this in Japan that made it great. At one point, a man walked behind us and started trying to say something to me, but I couldn’t understand and was a bit bewildered. He kept walking and I realized a few minutes later that he was the sushi chef behind the bar. He talked to us briefly; asked if we were from America, then said something about Obama. We laughed and nodded and continued eating. 





We eventually finished and paid; I had gotten 5 plates and it was around $7 total. What a cheap last meal! Even including the transportation we were still only around $10. We headed back to our hotel and called it a night. 

Unfortunately, the neighbors next door did not have the same sentiment. In fact, they merely confirmed my suspicion of the true use of the hotel. Oh well, live and learn! We turned on the air conditioner (set to the highest temperature) and the fan mostly drowned out the sound…


And thus concludes our days in Japan…

Cheers,
Chelsea

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Chelsea in Kyoto - Day 2

Tuesday, February 17

As I’m writing this, I am currently traveling around 100mph (okay that may be an exaggeration…) on a train between Kyoto and Osaka. I didn’t get the chance to write about yesterday, so I’m taking the 30 minute train ride to get a start…

So yesterday was forecasted to be rainy. We woke up an checked the weather again and it said cloudy until the later afternoon, then it would rain. So, we got up an made the most of our few dry hours. First things first: breakfast.

We decided to go to a cafe we had passed on Monday that had pictures of breakfast foods on posters outside. The door read “Cakes and Coffee” so we thought it would be a good option. We went inside and an old Japanese man indicated to an open table for us to sit at. We browsed the menu (which had some English decsriptions thankfully) and both selected Set A which had toast, scrambled eggs, some sausages, and an unidentifiable lump of white matter. When the meal came, Jessica ended up liking whatever the stuff was (we never figured it out; I think it maybe had cabbage in it) I tried a bit and didn’t care for it. 

After breakfast, we stopped by the dumpling shop from Monday to see if they still had my water bottle. Of course, they weren’t open yet. My hope of getting this thing back was getting slimmer and slimmer… 

We decided not to get another bus pass since the main place we wanted to go to for the day was only really accessible by subway. Instead, we walked about a mile to the subway station and took the train south to Fushimi Inari. 












Fushimi Inari is a major Shinto shrine/temple and is notable for its “1,000 Torii Gates” - large red/orange gates that they have lined up so you are walking through a tunnel of color. We walked through more touristy streets (surprise surprise) and saw so many street foods! I’m pretty sure there was quail on a stick, raw crab balls, and plenty of unidentifiable snacks. We browsed around and then made our way to the actual shrine complex.

When we got there, there was a well with cups for people to wash their hands and mouth to purify themselves before going into the temple. We did not elect to participate, but watched for a minute in fascination. 

We walked up the steps and I noticed that while many shrines and temples use dragons or sometimes large cats to “guard” the temple, this one had many foxes around. I think that was a unique feature because later I saw an area where kids could paint a face on a small wooden fox and hang it. We walked around for a few minutes before heading to the Torii Gates path. 




There were so many people trying to take photos with the path that it was hard to even enter it initially. We decided to wait until further along to take pictures, as it would be just too hard to get a good shot with all the people anyway. We walked for about a quarter mile (maybe?) through the gates until we got to a small clearing where we could see a map of the mountain.

I guess I should have known, but this shrine was spread around this small mountain. We looked at the map and I decided I wanted to go all the way to the top to get a good view! Plus, fewer people would elect to go so high, so there would be fewer and fewer people around.

We trekked on for about 45 minutes through gates and past beautiful scenery and interesting miniature shrines and other “buildings” until we came to yet another clearing. We looked again at the map and my jaw dropped at how short of a ways up the mountain we had come. It felt like we should at least be halfway! Nope. We debated for a few minutes: if we went ahead and continued, we were looking at at least two more hours of hiking. Neither of us had on shoes that were particularly good for hiking, and I was actually a bit tired. I do a fair amount of cardio, but I guess I’m used to more flat landscape!

Ultimately, we decided that if we continued, we would be very tired, very hungry, the rain could start at any time, and most likely the view would be anticlimactic, as it is winter not spring or fall with beautiful foliage. We turned around and went back down the mountain along a shortcut. I was glad we went up a ways, but also glad we decided not to do the entire thing. I guess I was a bit idealistic (read: unrealistic) with that goal.





We walked back along the touristy streets and caught the subway back to the area near(ish) to our hotel. We went to the Nishiki Market again (where we had dinner the night before) and went in search of a different ramen place. The day was cold, and we had worked up an appetite so a hot bowl of spicy ramen sounded delicious. We wandered through the streets and figured we would see something quickly. A mile later, we still hadn’t found anything so I busted out my Yelp app and did a search. Because of the weather (I assume) my phone wasn’t working very quickly but we eventually found a place with good ratings that was a short walk away.

We walked into the place and saw an aisle, and two things that looked like subway ticket machines. Both were occupied, and I wasn’t totally sure what they were, so we followed the sign down the aisle that read “Counter”. There were what looked like little booths that were halfway obscured by curtains. We got to the end of the aisle, and still hadn’t seen a hostess. Jessica saw a screen on one of the walls that looked like a diagram and it had some English on it.

Basically, the diagram was of the seats in the restaurant. You were supposed to look for seats lit up with a green symbol; you could sit at any of those. We saw two seats next to each other and followed the map to them. Each seat was blocked off into a one-person semi-private booth, with a curtain halfway down in front of you. Apparently, the waitresses were in blocked off aisles behind the seating areas, and would communicate with you (unseen) through the curtain. 

By looking at the ordering cards, we had no idea how to order. Everything was in Japanese. When the waitress came by she said something to us in Japanese, and I bent down and stuck my head halfway out of the “window” under the curtain. She looked surprised and said English? I nodded yes! and she brought us two order cards in English.

These made a lot more sense: you basically build your own ramen, although there wasn’t a ton of ingredients to choose from, more so how do you want it cooked and the flavor. I chose to have medium broth strength, medium oiliness, no green onions, half spicy, and soft noodles. I also added a soft-boiled egg (my guilty pleasure in ramen!). We handed these to the waitress under the curtain and she bent down so we could see her under the curtain, held out her hand, and asked for “ticket”. 

Jessica and I looked at each other confused, and then back at her, “what??” She looked embarrassed and went and got another waiter, who squatted down and tried his best to ask us for “Meal ticket”. I had a sneaking suspicion those machines at the front were where we were supposed to buy tickets. We asked “front? by door?” and while I don’t think he understood, he did reply and said “Okay, pay here now?” We nodded appreciatively and paid him. I guess we were supposed to have paid for our meal before even sitting down. How strange!




We discovered that you are able to open the partitions between booths and were able to see and talk to each other a bit easier after that. Our food came after a few minutes and we both slurped appreciatively. I ended up calling the waitress back and requesting regular spicy (instead of half), and she brought me more spicy too put on top. It was sooooo delicious. I absolutely love ramen; the broth was delightfully spicy and flavorful, and the noodles were great. 

When we had finished both of our bowls (including drinking the remaining broth), we headed back out and decided to check out the market a bit more and then a nearby department store. We had seen a bunch of arcades throughout the market and popped into one. The workers immediately gave us each a piece of paper that looked like just an advert for the store. We wandered through and looked at the weird prizes (figurines of anime characters that all looked like Sailor Moon to me, stuffed Olaf characters, and some other interesting things). Another worker with half bleached blonde hair came up to us and tried to give us another piece of paper. We pulled out the ones we had already been given, and he said “Ohhh okay okay. One game free!” 

Ah-ha! We asked him what games, and he brought us to a machine and pointed at it and said “this, no! all, okay!” pointing to the rest of the machines in the room. We had no clue how to play any of them, so we wandered around. He called to us, “Sister! Play game!” and pointed at a machine. He held out a stuffed Olaf character (from the movie Frozen) and said “Win prize!” We laughed and he showed us how to play one of the games. It wasn’t so much of a game, really; you just pressed a button and a machine tries to slide something off a horizontal pole. If you get it off the pole, you win. Jessica went first and did not win. I went after her and still didn’t win. He tried to get us to pay more to keep playing but we laughed and said no thank you! We left the store, laughing. I wish we had taken a photo with the guy; he kept calling us “sister”. So funny.



We walked through a few of the streets and looked at the trinkets, loads of sweets, and way too small clothes. Once we made it to the main street, we headed in the direction of one of the major department stores - Diamaru. When we got there, it was closed, so we went to another one next door. It was pretty standard; we started at level B1 (where the food and sweets are) and worked our way up to the lifestyle section on level 6. We just poked around for a bit then decided to head back to the hotel for a while.

We walked back to the hotel and had a rest for our tired feet. We decided to watch a movie and since Memoirs of a Geisha (Jessica’s top choice) wasn’t on Netflix, and Spirited Away (my top choice) wasn’t ANYWHERE on the internet, we went with Netflix’s recommendation for Japanese movie - Picture Bride. This was a 1984 drama about 1910s arranged marriages between Japanese girls and Hawaiian sugar cane farmers. It was boring at times, and we didn’t really know where the story was going, but it wasn’t terrible. 

After the movie, we had expected it to be raining but it hadn’t started yet. We went across the street to an Irish pub we had seen called the Man in the Moon. So strange for an Irish pub to be in traditional Kyoto Japan. It was a bit more expensive than I was hoping, so Jessica just had a little dinner and then we left. We walked down to the McDonald’s at the end of the street and I got something to eat. Terrible, I know. 

On our walk back towards the hotel, I saw a small sign on the sidewalk outside a building that said “Parker Roll Bar” and then below that “good music”. I had been wanting to go to a more traditional Japanese bar, so I suggested we pop in. We walked down some stairs and around a corner, and into a small, mostly deserted bar. When we walked in, an older Japanese guy turned around at the bar and said something in English with a big smile on his face (I’m trying to remember what it was he said, but I can’t!) He welcomed us in and asked if we were tourists. We said yes and he asked us to sit and have a drink. We chatted with him for a while and learned that he is in a band; he told us about the places that he toured and how he wanted to go to America. 



We sat and had a Sapporo with him for about 30 minutes. He was hilarious and obviously excited to practice his English with us. We asked him to take a photo for us, and he agreed excitedly. I gave him the camera and we smiled, ready to take the photo. I saw the red light that means it is focusing, but he didn’t hold it down long enough for the photo to actually take. He started to try to take a bunch of photos, like a photoshoot, and I started laughing and had to tell him, “They aren’t taking!” I told him to hold the button longer, and he tried but again he couldn’t do it. After laughing for a few more failed attempts, I took the camera and demonstrated. He said “ahh!” and tried again…. and failing once again! I told him “Hold it for a long time!” and FINALLY he took one. Once he figured it out, he took another. Then, we said he should be in a picture with us, and we got one of the only other patrons at the bar to take a photo for us.

We left here and went back to Man in the Moon for a little better atmosphere. After a while, we met a couple of other white guys, Chris from England, and Dan from Manhattan. We chatted with them for a while and had a few drinks before calling it a night around midnight. We walked back across the street and fell into bed after yet another long day!

Oh, one other interesting story! On Monday night, my eyes got very dry and I needed to take out my contacts. I had brought my solution, but not the case. Unfortunately, I use a solution that needs a very specific case (for a chemical reaction) and I was going to be out of luck without it. I decided to go to the convenience store outside the hotel and find some regular solution. After some searching, I saw two packs of contact solution/case. Neither having any English, I chose the one with the weird looking case, thinking that it might be similar to mine.

I got to the hotel and took out my contacts. I’m not sure if that case was meant for hard contacts or what, but the soft contacts didn’t stay in the little prongs and just kind of floated around. I put the solution in and went to bed. The next day, I needed to put them in. I was worried about it now, because I realized there may have been some special instructions that I hadn’t followed. I tried to put one in, and it kind of burned my eye (to be fair, I was thinking it might and it could have been half mental). I didn’t get the contact in, but put it back in the case for the time being.

I grabbed the bottle which had an overwhelming amount of Japanese, and decided to try the feature on the Google Translate app where it takes a picture and translates the words. After some trial and error, I finally got it to work! Of course, the translation was literal and probably not very accurate, but the general idea I got was that the solution was made to remove proteins on the lenses, which is what I needed it to do. I read something about tap water, so I decided to just rinse the contact with water and try again. That time, it worked and felt okay! However, later that day my eyes were hurting pretty badly and I had to remove them again. I think for now I will keep the contacts out and wait until we get back to Korea to put them in again after using my specific solution!

That’s all for Tuesday! Wednesday (which for me is today), we go to Osaka. :)

Cheers,

Chelsea

Monday, February 16, 2015

Chelsea in Kyoto - Day 1

I don't remember the last time I was this exhausted at the end of a day. I'm sure when I was backpacking in Europe in 2013 I had some days like this, but in recent memory, I don't remember a day this full and tiring.

We got up at 8am, which felt like a late start. It really wasn't, but I was anxious to get started in Kyoto as I had quite a few things on my list, and we really only have a couple days in the country. We got ready and headed out to a place for some breakfast. I found a place via a combination of Googling and Yelp; we were able to walk there in about 5 minutes. It was a bakery that you could also order a few hot dishes from. I got a scrambled egg set with toast, a salad, and a drink. It was 650Y (~$6.50). I was very happy with the food, and felt like I would be able to make it to a late lunch without a problem.

After we finished there, we headed to Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Thanks to my handy SIM card and Google Maps (a complete life-saver), we knew we needed to catch a bus, then walk. The bus we wanted showed up right as I looked at my phone, but we needed to buy a bus pass first. Instead of taking that bus, we walked down to a convenience store to get the pass. Then, rather than walk backwards, we kept walking on until the next bus stop. There was some construction going on, so that bus stop didn't currently exist. We kept walking and finally got to a bus stop about half a mile from where we originally could have caught it.

We took that bus 4 stops and then got off in order to walk up to the temple. The walk was pretty steep, and went through a neighborhood, but there were lots of other people walking in the same direction so I assumed we were going in the right direction. I saw the first of what would become many of Japanese "limousines" (as they were told to us by a driver). See photo. Literally a man running you around. We laughed and I tried to take a sneaky picture, but didn't do so well.

After a few minutes, we started to see more and more shops pop up along the street. Eventually we could tell we were in the right area, as it was getting quite touristy with all the shops and vendors selling every kind of Japanese trinket.

We finally got to the temple complex and it was beautiful! We took some photos (along with everyone else in the vicinity), then walked further up. While the temple itself seemed to be getting a facelift and had some unsightly cranes surrounding it, the surrounding areas were still picturesque. At one point we saw people ringing a huge bell with a massive rope, and followed suit by tossing in a penny, saying a prayer, clapping twice, then ringing the bell. I assume this practice was for good luck in the near year (it is lunar new year here soon!)





We decided not to pay the 500Y to go in the temple, but rather 100Y to go through the Tainai-meguri, a subterranean area right next to it. This area is called the womb of the temple, and it is quite an experience to go through it. First you take off your shoes and put them in a bag. You then hold a handrail to the left, and descend some stairs. The light dies quickly, as you turn at the bottom of the stairs. The handrail goes from being smooth metal, to smooth but wooden spheres. Almost immediately, you are completely blind. My eyes were wide open and I couldn't see my hand in front of my face.

I tried to relax and enjoy the experience, but I couldn't help being a little claustrophobic. However, after a few minutes I did eventually start to feel more "zen", if you will. Without sight, you rely on your other senses more. The floor beneath my feet was bumpy and a little uncomfortable, like walking on large pebbles that have been smoothed into a single layer in grout. The handrail was made of spheres, and my hand followed the continuous crest and fall of the wood. I moved inches at a time, willing myself to not run into anything, or think of the fact that we were underneath an ancient temple that could fall through the earth at any moment. After maybe 5 minutes, I saw a small green light (like when a camera is on) to my right. I glanced at it, and reminded myself that while it was dark for me, someone at some point was down here with a light and knows what is down here!

Immediately after seeing that light, the handrail curved around and I saw a large spherical stone lit with pale green light. I think there may have been something in the center of the rock, but continued walking and couldn't get a good long look (there were others starting to come behind us; I could hear them approaching). It was strange to see, a little unearthly. Once we past this, we turned again and came onto a landing with a pale light and some stairs back up into the temple complex. We both agreed that we felt more relaxed and that it was an experience well worth the $1!








After taking more photos around the area, we decided to continue on our way without entering the temple itself. We walked back through the touristy streets and saw ANOTHER TV show being filmed! First in Korea, now in Japan... I think they're following us.

We turned and following some more streets towards Kodai-ji Temple and eventually Maruyama Park. On the way, we walked by many shops which were markedly less crowded than the ones outside the first temple. Jessica spied some cute little pieces of pottery, and we bought some hand-painted small plates (for jewelry, etc). I fell in love with two and bought them both.

When we were almost to the next temple, I saw a huge Buddha station rising over the streets and knew we had to check it out. It was part of Ryozen Gokoku Shrine (we later found out) and paid 200 each to enter the area. When we paid, we were each given an incense stick and the woman pointed to where we should put it. It was a memorial for soldiers who perished (on all sides) in WWII. I really liked the memorial and the pamphlet we were given had a nice poem in it as well.


We wandered around the rest of the complex and found a small shrine where visitors would pray for a good (romantic) partner. We both thought this was hilarious and went through the motions. Another area had a gold "coins" where you can write on it your hopes for the new year and hang them around a large gold ball. The coins had a sign "300Y" next to them, but no one was there, so I assume it was donation. I took one of the coins, but didn't hang it.

While we were wandering around, there were three other white people in the complex (literally the only other people there) and they kept following us (inadvertently? I don't know) to the areas we were checking out. We eventually got annoyed and wrapped things up in order to get out of there. We decided to skip the temple itself, as it also would have cost us 500Y and we didn't want to spend $5 to see another temple.

Instead, we walked around the temple through the streets towards the park. On the way, a man was selling dried fruits. While they were way too expensive, we did accept a sample of apple and strawberry, and they were delicious! We kept on going and eventually hit the park where we took a few minutes to relax and listen to "traditional Japanese flute". While not any music I would necessarily choose, it was very calming. Jessica commented that it sounded like they get their music from nature, and I thought that was very accurate.

After a bit, we decided it may be a good time for us to take a mid-day break at the hotel, mainly because my camera was almost dead and we were pretty tired ourselves. We took a bus back to our street and I found a dumpling place on Yelp. We walked to that, got a bit lost, and then happened upon the restaurant just after giving up on finding it. We each ordered a Gyoza set of 12 dumplings, rice, miso soup, and Japanese pickles (whatever those are). We were famished by this point, having walked several miles already. We both ate all of our dumplings and most of our rice and soup. Jessica liked the Japanese pickles, but I wasn't a huge fan. We left there around 2pm and headed back to the hotel for a short rest.



We got to the hotel and I realized I left my water bottle at the restaurant. I was disappointed, but I decided to go back for it later, as they had just closed for the lunch hour anyway. We took an hour break and let my camera charge. We found out that the next two days might be very rainy, so we decided instead of going to the market and department store like we had planned, we would go to Arashiyama area we'd planned to go to tomorrow. It was about an hour away by bus, but we had our bus passes and figured it would make good use of them anyway.

We left about 3pm to catch the bus, but we got bad advice from the hotel desk and missed our bus. I will definitely say that if you are traveling by yourself (or at least, not with a tour group or guide), investing in a SIM card with data and using Google Maps is probably one of the best things you can do. We have saved SO MUCH TIME by knowing the correct bus to take, what stop to get off at, and the correct route to walk. We saw countless foreigners standing around looking confused with paper maps in their hands, and I'm once again thankful that we aren't those people!

We eventually caught it at 3:30pm and made it to Arashiyama at about 4:15. "Arashiyama" actually refers to the mountains to the northwest of Kyoto, but the surrounding neighborhood has adopted the term as well. Since the sun had already gone below the mountain line, we knew we should get moving if we wanted to catch everything before sun-down.

We crossed Togetsukyo bridge and headed north towards Tenryu-ji Temple. We chose to go to the Bamboo Forest first, due to the eminent setting sun and my desire to take photos. We walked through more touristy shops on the way, and then followed signs for the Bamboo Path.



The path was thick with people, but we hung about to take photos between groups of tourists. It was a beautiful area, but I think perhaps it would be more beautiful in the spring or fall. The path was not very long (I was a bit disappointed) and we came out on the other end. Walking back through the shops area, we popped into the Tenryu-ji temple complex to take some photos, but the temple itself had already closed (darn. 500Y we didn't get to spend!)




Around 6pm we hopped on a bus back into the main city area. I Yelped and Googled for dinner places, and we ended up going to an area called Nishiki market to a restaurant called Wakasaya. We want to return to the market tomorrow and shop, but by the time we got there, we were getting hangry and needed to eat stat! We found the restaurant, which was quite small, but we were seated immediately. This was the first place we went where there was literally NO English in the entire restaurant, let alone an English menu. I knew from Yelp the premise was a bowl of rice with fresh seafood on top. We looked at pictures and eventually both picked bowls that looked like they may have things we liked on them.


When the bowls came, we were both too hungry to remember to take a photo before digging in. Honestly, I don't know what kind my bowl had. I know I got at least some salmon, the other two things I'm not sure. One was a light pink and was almost like a tartar in the texture; the other was very dark pink - I think it was yellowfin tuna maybe? Anyway, we scarfed that down immediately. It was pretty cheap - around $8 each. So far for the day, all of our meals have been less than $10 each, which is great considering I had (accidentally) budgeted for $20 per meal. Glad we are going to be under-budget (I HOPE!).


I just want to comment here that I am so glad that I have become a more adventurous eater. I know I'm not the best, but I KNOW I wouldn't have been this open about food even 2 years ago. Korea really broadened my horizons (okay, completely shattered them and made new ones I wouldn't have even imagined!), and I haven't found one thing to complain about here. Everything from the stuffing in the dumplings to not knowing what kind of fish I was eating; I've really made strides and I'm very proud of myself! And the best part is: I'm enjoying EVERYTHING I'm eating!

After dinner, we decided to get some dessert and made a beeline for the Baskin Robbins as soon as we saw it. I had a cone called the Lucky Sheep (which I believe to have been strawberry ice cream with chocolate chips and marshmallows); Jessica had a dark chocolate and raspberry flavor. We sat and enjoyed our ice cream for a while then decided to get back to the hotel. We practically fell into our beds as soon as we got in, and it's taken every last bit of energy I have to write this blog!

Now, it's off to bed to rest up for tomorrow. It will probably rain, but we have some indoor places in mind to continue to make the most of our time. (And if all else fails, we can rent Memoirs of a Geisha on iTunes and buy strange Japanese snacks at the convenience store for an entertaining day at the hotel!)

Cheers,
Chelsea


Chelsea (going to) Kyoto

Today was such a long day! This morning I woke up at 6am and couldn't get back to sleep. We were leaving for Kyoto today, and I started thinking about everything I hadn't yet thought about - and that was a stressful line of thinking! I realized that I didn't even know what kind of outlets Japan used! (Turns out, they use two-prong ones like the US but with 100V instead...) I laid in bed and did research until Jessica woke up around 8am.

Once she woke up, I again started to get stressed. I don't know why traveling stresses me out; I'm always afraid there's something super important that I didn't know, or didn't think about, or will forget... anyway, it was great to be with Jessica because she is completely the opposite. She is so laid back and easy going. Traveling with her balances me out. So we got up and got ready and packed our stuff.

I decided to use my backpacking-backpack for Japan so I won't have to roll a suitcase around; However, combine a backpack with a down jacket, scarf, and purse, and I was laden down. We left her apartment at about 11am in search of lunch before heading to the airport. Unfortunately, as it was Sunday, nothing was open. We gave up and went to the Krispy Kreme Donuts by the subway station. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't delicious, but I knew I would regret it in 2 hours when my blood sugar plummeted and I was hungry and grumpy.

After "breakfast", we wanted to stop by a pharmacy to get Jessica some pain medication for some pain she has been having in her side recently. Again, nothing was open. Trudging around the neighborhood with our luggage was not particularly enjoyable, and I was happy when we got to the bus stop around noon.

We got to Incheon pretty quickly - only about 50 minutes - and went in search of our airline. Incheon has been rated the best airport in the world, and it really is great. But its HUGE and there are SO MANY people! We stood in line to check in for our flight for about 10 or 15 minutes, then had to wait in the security line for about 30 more minutes. Unfortunately they caught my conditioner bottle which, while being nearly empty, was over the 3oz container size and they tossed it. I was glad I hadn't risked it with something more A)Expensive and B)New/Full.

We made our way through the maze that is Incheon, and Jessica spied a pharmacy to get her meds, thankfully. At the gate (which we made it to only about an hour and a half after getting to the airport), we waited for the flight to board.


We ended up sitting near the mid-to-back of the plane, and I was quickly reminded how tight the budget airliners are. I was thankful to be as short as I am, or my legs would not have fit in the seat. The flight left late, but we landed around the same time as predicted - 5pm.

We landed at Kansai Airport, outside Osaka. The airport is so small you don't even have jetways, and have to walk across the tarmac outside the plane. Once we were actually IN Kansai Airport, we had to wait in more lines for immigration and customs. Story of the day: waiting in lines.
After being shuffled through there, we came into the terminal and I exchanged the KRW that I had in my possession (I having stupidly forgotten my debit card in America) for yen. We asked at the Tourist Information Desk where to catch the bus to Kyoto Station (I knew it existed from my research), and she explained to us where to go out of the Terminal, catch the shuttle bus to the other terminal, go up the stairs, over the road, through the terminal, back down the escalator, to the bus stop #8, and there we can get the bus. Trying to keep it straight in my mind, we walked out of the terminal and into, you guessed it, another line for the shuttle bus. Thankfully, despite this one being long, it moved quickly thanks to the plethora of shuttle buses running at that time.

Once we got to the other terminal, we attempted to follow the directions we were given, and eventually found the ticket machine for the bus. It was 2550Y - around $22 - for the 1.5hr bus ride to Kyoto Station. We lucked out and the bus (which runs every hour or so), pulled up right as we got into the line. We found two seats next to each other and agreed to try and nap on the way over, since we were both quite tired from the day's ordeal.

For some unknown reason, for the entire length of the bus ride, the driver did NOT turn off the overhead lights. So, even with my eyes closed, I couldn't get any sleep at all. Since it was dark outside by this time - it was a little after 6pm when we left the airport - with the lights on I couldn't see a damn thing out the window. So annoying...

When we got to Kyoto Station, I had planned on us walking to the hotel. It was about 1 mile away, and the map made it look like a straight shot north on the main road. However, arriving tired, FAMISHED (remember, only a donut at 11am...) and into a brand new place where we don't even know a single word (beyond Namaste and Konichiwa), I suggested we just get a taxi. It was, after all, only a mile.

We flagged down a taxi easily and I showed the driver where we were going. After a moment of studying the map, he nodded yes and we put our stuff in the trunk and set off for the hotel. I'm sure he knew where he was going but I like to try and follow along on the map to be sure we weren't being taken for a ride. I felt pretty good about the route until the end, when I said to Jessica "Okay, now I'm starting to get nervous, I think he went too far..." and boom, 5 seconds later we pulled up in front of the hotel. Yay! The ride was 790Y - around $7 - and money well-spent in my opinion!

When we went to check-in, Jessica commented how nice the hotel looked. I quite agreed, and was glad that I had done my research on hotels! I think I got us the very best hotel for our money. We could have gone cheaper, but I think that this place is quite nice and worth what we paid (which was around $100/night). At the check-in desk there were two white guys asking something, and I heard their British accents. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that their faces when they turned and saw us. (Jessica and I would later have a laugh at their obvious delight!).

We got our key as well as an envelope which contained our Japanese SIM card! I had ordered it online and had it sent to the hotel. It is just a week's rental, but for around $12 each, we can have access to the internet out and about. When we got up to our room (#602), we were so pleased with our room! Especially for Asian-standards, it was quite large, and SO CLEAN. We were excited to see a bathtub (they don't exist in Korea, basically).

Finally, we put our luggage down and went in search of food. I was THRILLED to see that Yelp works in Japan (it doesn't in Korea), and we went to a highly rated ramen shop about a third of a mile away. We found it easily with Google Maps and ordered while waiting for a spot inside. Thankfully it wasn't crazy cold outside - probably mid-40s. We got inside within about 10 minutes and our food arrived very quickly. The ramen was really good, but I think that it was probably due in part to how hungry we were. We shared some dumplings and then got to work on our noodles.


After dinner, we were exhausted and decided to go back to the room and rest up for our first day of sightseeing in Kyoto tomorrow. On the elevator ride up to our room, we ran into one of the English guys again, and it was so cute how he tried to chat us up! He was having an ice cream and started talking about how crazy English like their ice cream depsite the winter! And when we told him we were from Texas, I swear his face looked like he won the jackpot. When he got off the elevator, we couldn't help but laugh so hard! It was flattering and yet, hilarious!!

It was a long and travel-heavy day, but worth it to be in Japan for the first time. Looking forward to beautiful sites and delicious food tomorrow.

Cheers,
Chelsea

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