August in Tokyo

Spring of 2019 we came across an amazing Delta deal – R/T tickets to Japan for $470 each! We found 10 days in late summer and happily started to plan our trip. I had been in Japan for 7 days in 2014 as a solo-budget-traveler and LOVED it. (Click here to read that blog post.)

Asakusa Gate with local tourists in 2014

I knew this trip would be very different- this time I was traveling with my husband! He travels frequently for business so he is great at packing but his standards for accommodation are a bit different than mine. He chose the Hilton over the capsule hotel.

(See my post about staying in a capsule hotel.)

Here is my fancy husband with all of our luggage as we board our MSP>HND flight. We managed 11 days of travel with only a carry-on and a personal item each! I’m quite proud. We checked a bag on the flight home.

The flight was 12 hours from Minneapolis to Haneda. We chose that Tokyo airport over Narita because it’s close proximity to the city made it much easier/cheaper to get to our hotel.

The view from the Shinjuku Hilton.

It was VERY humid and warm out, but we trekked out for a bit of exploring and found ourselves in the Shinjuku Chuo park. It was a lovely spot to stretch our legs and the noise from the cicadas in all those trees was incredibly loud!

Soon we happened upon our first temple. Richard especially loved the juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern.

We bought a fortune (omikuji) from a machine at the shrine. If your fortune is ‘bad’ you tie the paper onto the provided wire, as you can see above. The wooden plaques (ema) are purchased and you write a prayer/wish on them and leave them at the shrine for the spirits to receive.

As it got dark, we happily realized that we had managed to out-walk the jet lag! We grabbed some grocery store sushi (yum.) on our way back to our room and ate dinner in our Hilton kimonos. Zzzzzz.

The next morning we popped into the Executive Lounge and were gobsmacked at the breakfast options! In the states, Hiltons serve the standard dry scrambled eggs and sausage in the Exec lounge… here we were treated to fresh smoothies, French pastries, tofu cubes, yogurt, salmon, eggs with wild mushrooms and fresh-squeezed orange juice! Richard’s favorite breakfast was the build-you-own Miso soup bar!

Now that we were suitably fed, we headed out to Asakusa to explore the famous Senso-ji Shrine. We were there early to avoid the heat so many of the shops weren’t open yet.

Wandering the streets of Asakusa before things get crowded.
The frequently-photographed gate to the Senso-ji Shrine.
Before heading into the shrine you should purify yourself. Rinse your hands with the ladle at the fountain and waft the incense over your head. You can tell that we were there very early, by the end of the day that giant basin will be entirely full of incense offerings.

Inside the shrine, look up and you’ll see this gorgeous nymph gathering sacred lotus blossoms.

It started getting hot and crowded but the stores were opening, so we grabbed a cold beverage at the Don Quixote’s and I mocked the poor eel just living his life in front of the megastore.

There is EVERYTHING in a Don Quixote – that might be a whole other post. That post might also include why you can’t drink tea/water/etc on the street.

We decided that due to our early start, we had time to catch the train into Tokyo station and find some lunch!

Tokyo Station, built in 1914.

The plan would have gone smoother if it wasn’t 100+ degrees outside. We walked out of the station and IMMEDIATELY wanted to head indoors to escape the humidity. We were hungry and we ended up eating in the station. The food in the train stations is consistently good. After recharging, we headed over to the Imperial Palace.

The grounds of the Imperial Palace

Since it was spur of the moment, we didn’t have tickets which should be purchased online before your visit. Tickets are free. We walked the finely manicured grounds and gazed longingly across the moat. By this time we were hot again and needed to get back in the A/C, so we headed back to Shinjuku to take a nap.

The trains are so efficient and clean!

After our nap, we popped into the Exec lounge to grab a bottled water and a snack… only to find out they were serving DINNER and so we made a reservation! While eating our free lounge meal (which was amazing) we discussed how much more enjoyable today would have been if ‘someone’ had packed comfy walking shoes. That someone did some research and discovered all the cool Tokyo kids are wearing Onitsuka Tigers! After dinner that ‘someone’ purchased the largest size Tigers in the store.

‘Someone loves his Japanese Exclusive Onitsuka Tigers!’

Tomorrow we catch the Shinkansen to Kyoto! Stay tuned.

Never travel without a FestiBelt!

FestiBelt: A better money belt.

  • FestiBelt: A fabric pocket belt full of travel items.
  • Black Galaxy FestiBelt on the beach.

When traveling it’s important to keep your valuables close at hand. Many people use a beige money belt to protect their valuables when they travel. The FestiBelt was designed with many features that make a FestiBelt your perfect travel companion. Here are just a few:

1- Low Profile: The FestiBelt’s minimalist design makes it easy to conceal under clothing and keeps your valuables out of the sight of pick pockets.

2- A Large Pocket: FestiBelts have a pocket that runs around the entire length of the belt and is accessed by a 7″ zipper. This combo makes it possible to tuck a passport around the back of the FestiBelt, keys or a slim wallet to each side and still have room for a large cell phone in the front.

3- Soft, Washable Fabric: FestiBelts are made of a durable, 4-way stretch fabric which feels soft against your ski, just like a pair of leggings. Your FestiBelt can be washed and will air-dry overnight.

4- Comfort and Safety: Since the FestiBelt is a continuous loop of fabric, it cannot be unbuckled, cut off by a pick-pocket or casually left behind. I just read a travel warning from a woman who accidentally left her money belt on a bus because the buckle was rubbing uncomfortably against her skin and she took it off! We get feedback that the FestiBelt is so soft that our customers forget they are wearing it!

Two sisters
A FestiBelt is a soft, colorful pocket belt that is hand sewn in Colorado by these two sisters- Jessie and Adrienne

The Beginning

The idea for the FestiBelt was hatched by Jessie (aka. SipSister2) when she started going to music festivals and found that her colorful dresses didn’t have pockets! When you’re dancing your face off, you need a secure spot to zip up your phone, keys and credit cards, so the FestiBelt was born! Soon, all of Jessie’s festi-friends were asking where she got that great pocket belt and Jessie sewed up FestiBelts for all her friends and family. Adrienne (SipSister1) thought that FestiBelts were SO handy that everyone should be able to buy one, so in 2017, the Sipkovsky sisters opened an ESTY shop.

Get your own FestiBelt at

A Colorado drive: Glenwood Canyon

What a lovely weekend for an afternoon drive!The canyon is just 12.5 miles but is a gorgeous drive with the road, train rail and the Colorado river all together. Hanging Lake is here too- but the weekend is not the time unless you want to hike in  a line full of tourists.

Glenwood Canyon

The California Zephyr running alongside the mighty Colorado river.
The Colorado River  was running high and chocolate-colored after a hard rain.

We stopped to see my siblings and admire my brother’s lovely yard.


This is what lettuce looks like if you let it go.









Next we turned off of the highway towards Minturn and drove towards Red Cliff and the abandoned mining town of Gilman.

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Now onward up the winding road toward Leadville! We stopped  at (what’s left of) Camp Hale where the 10th Mountain Division trained. There is a little campground with pit toilets.

We continued up to 10,200 ft; the mining town of Leadville is full of gift shops and tourists and is definitely worth the trip for the drive alone.

On the way back down to Highway 70 we saw some more lovely sights.

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Back on the highway, we cruise back towards Denver.

Until next time!



Grab a Museum Pass at the Airport & head to Museé d’Orsay!

Paris is full to the brim with fantastic museums but if you’re short on time (or on patience for long museum lines) head to Museé d’Orsay! Once a decadent train station, it was converted into a museum space and it is the perfect size for a half day of Impressionist paintings.honeymoonice-44

Top 3 Tips:

  1. Buy a Museum Pass which allows access to a special line!
  2. Arrive before 10am while the other tourists are noshing on croissants.
  3. Hungry? There are 3 eating options: A quick cafe on the ground floor,  Le café Campana on the top floor that serves a decadent hot cocoa and has gorgeous views of the Seine through a giant clock face AND a fancy formal restaurant from 1900 on the 1st floor. (Check out the cherub ceilings and fancy decor below!)p1190989screen-shot-2017-01-01-at-12-16-58-pm

We got in early and planned to spend a half-day in the museum. First, we headed up to the Impressionist Floor and spent a good hour gazing at all the Cézanne, Degas, Gauguin, Manet, Monet, Renoir, and Van Goghs!

We stopped to snap a super-touristy pic in front of the clock face…


And we then hunted around for Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night Over the Rhone‘… which was on loan to Toronto. Luckily, there is another area full of Van Gogh’s on a lower floor. I have to remind myself NOT touch the Van Goghs… when I get up close I just want to run my finger across all those brushstrokes. In person, the colors are richer and the ridges where Van Gogh himself pulled the paint around the canvas are deep.


I also loved this portrait that Paul Signac did of his wife.

honeymoonice-46Museé d’Orsay is the top of our list of museum recommendations and if we had stayed longer, we would have gone back another day. Don’t miss this gem!

Sacré Coeur Sunset


We made the trek to Montmartre the evening my friend Natasja arrived from Amsterdam on the train. We had intended to watch the sunset from highest point in Paris, but the clouds didn’t cooperate. We still had fun; sitting on the steps with the throngs of tourists, rebuffing the alcohol peddlers and taking photos.

 The view of Paris, stretched out before us was lovely, even if the sunset was unimpressive.


We bought 5 tiny Eiffel tower keychains for 1 Euro (but didn’t let the scam artists tie any friendship bracelets on us!) Then we headed down into Montmartre to find a bite to eat. The restaurant table has this drawing on it!



France: Our Parisian Apartment

We dropped off our Sadcar and dove into the total chaos of the Reykjavik airport at 6am. The airport LOOKS new but is total mayhem and I could write an entire post about it… that you would NOT want to read. Instead, I’ll show you the RAD aurora borealis effect on our plane.

We touchdown in Paris and make our way to the 6th arrondissement (neighborhood). Our place is on the left of the map and we’re only a 12-minute walk to Notre Dame (on the right).screen-shot-2016-11-05-at-5-51-18-pm

The closest Metro stop was Sainte Michel (which I appreciated because St. Michael’s Episcopal is my family’s church.) And it has this formidable  fountain of Michael the Archangel, vanquishing Satan.
honeymoon-5This is my handsome husband, strutting down our ‘rue’. The door on the left goes into our courtyard.honeymoon-3And here’s our courtyard! The door to my left is an office and the 2 steps on the right lead to a hallway that goes behind the office and to another, courtyard for our 2nd story apartment.honeymoon-4And here is a video of the place we called ‘ours’ in Paris.

This adorable apartment was our home base for 10-days while we explored the French capital.



Iceland: Sunshine and my Love

Oct. 15th

We couldn’t even believe our luck! Our last day in Iceland was planned to be a drive along the south coast and when we woke up the weather was SUNNY and mild! Just look at our adorable little school-house hostel!LaugHostel

It was like Christmas morning and I couldn’t WAIT to get on the road. Our first stop was a quick hike around the rim of a collapsed volcano in Keroid. Richard was enjoying the small things in life- like the way the volcanic rock crunched underfoot. I was enjoying the sunshine!susiesbday-2

Then we hit the coast and drove west towards Vik along Route 1. We bypassed Seljalandsfoss; the parking lot was FULL of tour buses and since the sun wouldn’t hit the falls until the afternoon, and moved on to Skogafoss. (Here’s R by our rented, manual, bi-color Toyota Corolla. This SADcar was the only inexpensive thing we paid for in Iceland!  And she worked just fine.) iceland-8

We hiked the stairs to the top of the waterfall to enjoy the view and then continued east toward Vik. (Do you see the tiny people in the bottom, right corner?)iceland-31 Along the way, the Atlantic was on our right and mountain views were on our left. We stopped a lot to take photos because we just couldn’t help ourselves!  On Route 1, we spotted a GLACIER in the distance. I frantically took photos out the window until Richard saw a road to the glacier parking lot! Off we went for a hike!

We drove past the unpronounceable volcano Eyjafjallajokull that blew in 2010 and kept all those European flights grounded. It doesn’t look very dangerous, with a farm in its foothills.


Our final destination was the little seaside village of Vik. The only thing of note in the town was this black sand beach. In the afternoon sun, the beach has a monochrome look.

p1190730The view of these same cliffs from the opposite was surprisingly different. Basalt rock formations and a blue, blue sea. The black sand was the same.

Vik was the end of the road for us and it was time to turn back and head for Reykjavik. We had one more stop. Luckily, the Seljalandsfoss waterfall was much less crowded and drenched in evening sunlight.iceland-11

We ended our Route 1 trip by hiking behind the waterfall to watch the sun descend for the evening.

Good-bye, Iceland! The next morning, we’ll be flying off to Paris!

Iceland: Water, water everywhere!

Oct. 14th

In Iceland, the water shoots up from the ground, falls from the sky, and warms your chilly bones. We woke up in our adorable hostel and it was still raining. We had a cold breakfast buffet ($20/each!) and headed out see the geyser that gave all geysers their name. It’s a quick but fun stop.

Geyser is on the way to Gullfoss (foss=falls) which is an impressive double waterfall, with extra volume due to all the Hurricane Matthew rains. What is a double waterfall? Look at this! The first fall is back to the left and it cascades down and the second fall goes down the ravine near the bottom of the photo. It was HUGE!


It was chilly and damp out on the moors and Richard was appropriately dressed like Lord Grantham out on the hunt.

ronthemoors robertcrawley








We needed a bit of Vitamin D, so we decided to have lunch in a GEOTHERMAL greenhouse! Off we go to the Fridheimar farm for some tomatoey-deliciousness! Behold! A bowl of $20 soup!


In all fairness, this place was AWESOME. The soup was all-u-can-eat with 8 different kinds of bread and basil on the table. Plus, you got to eat in a greenhouse and watch fat Dutch-imported bees (with no stingers) pollinate the tomato plants. It was the experience, not the soup that was worth $20.p1190609

To round out our day: we head to Fontana Hot Springs– two blocks from our hostel! They had 3 unique lagoons with varying temperatures, saunas AND you could jump in the lake! Brrr!


We had a relaxing evening in the hostel, wrote some postcards and woke up to SUNSHINE!



Iceland: Land of $20 soup and hurricane rains

We landed in Iceland 7am on Tuesday and it rained for the next 3 days. Luckily, we were on our honeymoon and nothing was going to dampen our spirits! Here’s Richard, (in a raincoat!) driving us through the rain.


Our first day was spent in the capital, Reykjavik. After we found our AirBnb (with a rooftop hot tub!) we headed out to find some food and walked up to the famous church (Hallgrímskirkja) to get our bearings. A few blocks downhill, we found Salka Valka (aka. Fish and More) and stopped in for an Icelandic delight, Plokkfiskur! (It’s the mashed-potato-looking pile, left of the beer and it was full of fish-DELICIOUSNESS!)Plokkfiskur

This is our first time seeing $20 soup on the menu. Food was very expensive in Iceland but for some reason, we never saw soup for less than $14! We thought it was an anomaly at Salka Valka and since we were SO pleased with our Plokkfiskur, we didn’t think much about it. That night I was still recovered from a bit of jet lag so we headed back to relax in the hot tub.

vikingbeerThe next morning we walked through town, admiring the graffiti and trying to keep our umbrella from blowing inside out. We ended up at Café Loki, right across from Hallgrímskirkja where we discovered that no one really eats eggs for breakfast in Iceland. Mostly they eat fish on toast or muesli with yogurt. Here you can see Richard enjoying his breakfast fish in front of a calming mural of Norse mythology. (FYI: The food you see on the table cost $34.)


On the walk home, we found the Einar Jonssan sculpture park and museum and I was enamored by Enar’s the Art Nouveau sculptures. This one is called, Protection.


To escape the rain, we decided to pay ($10) to go inside the museum. Turns out that Einar studied art in Europe and after he made it big, he told Iceland that he’d give them all his art if they’d build him a museum where he could have a studio and apartment. The kitchen was installed along one of the walls in this room below.  You should go, it was very interesting.p1190544

We packed up and headed out of town, taking the Golden Circle road towards Laugavartn. We drove through Pingvellir and admired the dramatic volcanic cliffs and waterfalls.


Soggy and tired (of being soggy) we arrived at our darling old-school hotel, Héraðsskólinn. We checked in and asked to borrow a hairdryer to dry our shoes. This is when we learned that the weather was caused by the tail of hurricane Matthew, slapping Iceland with unrelenting rains as it spun past. screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-10-17-29-pm

Tomorrow, geysers, more waterfalls and lunch in a greenhouse! (Spoiler alert… we bought the $20 soup!)

Our Sapa Homestay

After our 5-hour hike we arrive at our homestay in the early afternoon.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of a ‘homestay’: guests pay money to a tour company who arranges and vets local families who are willing to house and feed you for a night or more. Our homestay was arranged with the same company who we booked the Ha Long Bay tour with.  Travelers like this experience because of the interaction with local people in their homes. Usually the family invites you to help get the meal ready and eats with you.

View from the balcony beds.

The family we stayed with had built their house with homestay guests in mind. It had a second floor loft with 15 mattresses on the floor, under mosquito nets. It was simple, but comfortable. They had also recently built a modern bathroom with a shower, sink and flushing toilet. I’m quite sure that homestay guests are the majority of their income.

We got a tour of the property and then it was time to start making dinner from scratch. And when we say ‘scratch’ we mean Troy had to kill a chicken. (Luckily, I missed that part.)

In this photo, our guide Diego is insisting that he was just giving the chicken a ‘bath’.

I helped cut veggies and stoke the fire.P1070917While we waited for the food to cook we went down to the river and watched the local boys catch small fish in vase-shaped baskets.

Dinner was lovely. The neighbor pulled out an unlabeled jug of some strong clear liquor that smelled like an instant hangover. We got invited to a party at a homestay near-by and hung out with young professionals on a work retreat from Hanoi. They taught us this fun game.

That’s Troy in the #15 tank top. He’s got mad skillz.