Biking around Kyoto

Biking is so fun! I paid $7 US to rent a bike from my hostel. The first thing I noticed was that it doesn’t take much to deter a Japanese bike thief. Most of the bikes had a short, thin chain through the back wheel. My lock was a crecent, built into the back of the bike frame and just slid through the back wheel and locked. No one locked their bikes TO anything. Just put up your giant kickstand, slide the lock into place and off you go!

(Kid-carrying bike photo for Hillary Mull!)

Umbrella holster!
I rode 10 minutes up the street when I spotted a lovely temple gate and headed in for a look around.
The Yakasa Temple grounds cover such a large area (and there was so much going on!) that I stayed for 2 hours and ended up having lunch there! (Ymmmm, Squidballs!)

There were vendors selling coins (I bought a few), TWO weddings going on and in the back there was a temple up on the hill that offered a great view of the city.

Wedding #1 – the girl with the golden forehead is a ceremonial dancer.
There were many guests and attendants at this elaborate wedding. The guests all wore black.
The woman helping the bride also attended to the bride in the 2nd wedding.
Wedding #2- Just a simple affair.
This guy makes some stellar Squidballs!
This is the last known photo of Joey- who was lost in a last minute stand-off with airport security.
I ended up checking a bag to keep my tiny (but too pointy) scissors, but lost Joey in the shuffle. ūüė¶

While I was eating my Squidballs this lovely man approached me to ask if I was from Vietnam…

He just wanted to practice his English & show me his ‘study guides’. Exibit 1- The lyrics to the ‘What a Feeling’ from Flashdance. Exhibit 2- ‘What did you expect from Mardi Gras?’ Uhhh…

Next, I peddled around the Imperial Palace grounds, the wide ‘roads’ are all gravel so people stick to one thin trail where the gravel has been compacted by bike tires. It’s pretty hot but there are lots of little, shady spots to explore. I found a children’s playground, a bunch of bird photographers & an outdoor library full of nature books!

The day is half over! Off I go to the Golden Palace! After you buy your ticket, you just follow the crowd around the lake and back out again. Luckily, the weather was perfect & the sun was reflecting off the palace. It went by so fast that I just went through again. No charge.

 
There is a Phoenix on top!

I treated myself to some Red Bean ice cream & biked back to the hostel. As soon I walked in the door, I heard a cheery voice asking in anyone wanted to go out for dinner. I sure did! A few of us walked downtown to a Conveyor Belt Sushi restaurant! There were little touch screens to choose your sushi, then they showed you a photo of it when they put it on the conveyor in the kitchen so you are paying attention when it comes around.

I was sooo tuckered out! Back to my Santiago Hostel for a shower & a sleep!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arrogato, Kyoto!

My second morning in Tokyo I had to catch the bullet train to Kyoto. Jana and I had a bit of time to grab some breakfast and see the palace before. American breakfast is notoriously hard to come by in Japan. Luckily, we found a Dean & Deluca and had some fantastic quiche!

The palace is a big walled compound so we didn't get to see much. The shadow of this carefully manicured tree was my favorite. The rest of it looked something like this..big walls and a moat.

Off to the train station to speed across the country!

(Side note: Ron told me a funny story about safety testing the Shinkensen. Japan asked Boeing how they ensured that the glass in the cockpit could withstand an in-air collision with a bird. Boeing sent them the specs for a cannon that fired chickens at the front of the planes in their testing facility. Japan built the cannon, did some tests, broke all the windshields, redesigned the windshields and did more tests. They were unable to make a winshield that could pass the Boeing test. When they called Boeing to ask for advice, they seemed to be doing everything perfectly. After repeated tests and another phone call they discovered that Japan had been using frozen chickens.)

The train ride is smooth & fast, soon enough I'm wandering the streets of Kyoto looking for my hostel. I pass ladies in Kimonos, ancient temples and more 7-11s than I've seen since the 90's.

I get a bit lost on the way to the hostel, which is not surprising. I have no internet and I'm working off a screenshot from Google Maps and an address. I approach a group of ladies and they chat to eachother encouragingly when I point to the pin on the map and show them the address. I finally get to the hostel… I had walked right past it. I have to leave my shoes at the door and bunks have curtains around them.

Goodnight, Kyoto!

 

 

 

A peek into the lives of service workers in SE Asia.

The constant barrage of tuktuk drivers shouting out, “Tuktuk, Lady?!” combined with the “1 Dollar! 1 Dollar!” pleas of the street beggars is overwhelming. Everyone here is hustling. Because they have to. Because if they ask, you might say yes and they will have money for food that day. But this story isn't about them, this is the story of a lovely girl named KimLeng*.

In Cambodia, Kate and I met KimLeng who was proud to have a job as a hotel concierge. She booked tours and transport for the guests and showed them to their rooms. The average night's stay for a guest was $80. That is also the monthly salary that the hotel pays KimLeng. Let me say that a different way: KimLeng works 50+ hours a week for $20/week. Egad. (Policemen make $50/month!) Besides working 6 days a week (10-12 hr days) KimLeng is likely to be fired for calling in sick because there are 10 people clambering for her job.

KimLeng's father drives a tuktuk and her mother runs a shop but their family of 7 relies on her consistent income. KimLeng is also studying Hotel Management & English and every night she spends at least 3 hours attending classes & doing school work before going to bed at midnight. She gets up at 5am to set up the shop with her mother before work. Her walk to/from work is 45min.

This girl is working HARD to support her family. The same as many other people I know, all around the world. Keep up the good work, people. We're all in this together.

 

*Kate's friend, Kyrie, suggested that we meet up with KimLeng. Kyrie's family has been sponsoring KimLeng's high school and college education and have made many visits to Siem Reap to see her.

 

 

Signs, signs, everywhere the signs: Japan edition

Happy Fall! Here are some of the entertaining signs that caught my eye while traveling in Japan.
I didn't know the Japanese had Boy Scouts! That sure looks fun.
All campers must remember to put out their fires.
 

What to do if you drop your hat on the train tracks.

Seen at Senso-ji temple: where you should be careful about where you hang your laundry.

Do you want to experience the coldest water available? It's AMAZING!

I mean, seriously amazing.

OOOH!!!! TOO COLD!! TOO COLD!!!!

If you're not into freezing water, then maybe you're into sweat? (This is an electrolyte drink.)

This sign made ME sweat! Seriously, this is the subway map? Eek.

Feeling hungry? Follow Snoopy to your table!

The deer in Nara love the round crackers that the tourists feed them.

But you have to be careful around the deer, they are 'wild' animals after all!

“Who? Me?!?”

This sign is pretty self explanatory. Don't get drunk or a teenager will post photos of you.

The only thing worse than public drunkenness is MONKIES! They are so naughty.

One of the things that separates us from the monkies… or not.

I hope you enjoyed this little sign tour together!

 

 

 

Konichiwa, Japan!

The first time I called Delta to work out the details of my trip, I asked if there was a possibility of staying in Japan for a few days. I was informed that any layover longer than 24 hours would cost more Skymiles than I had. The second time I called, I asked again and heard, “Sure, how long would you like to say?”

What started off as a layover, has turned into a love affair!

You may recall, I spent my first 2 nights in a Tokyo capsule hotel in the Shinjuku area.

On my very first morning, I met an American and invited her to breakfast … later we find out that she is friends with my little sister! Jana flew into Tokyo to meet up with her husband who has taken a JET position teaching English in a rural Japanese village. Even better, Jana has a friend, Brent, who is a guide on Mt. Fuji and he’s taken the day off to show her around… would I like to come? YES!

We visited a local temple and Brent taught us how to use the fountains to purify ourselves before going into the temple. (Use the ladel to rinse your left hand, then right hand, then mouth.)

Gates to the Senso-Ji Temple and market.
For $1 you could get your fortune (Omikuji) at the temple by shaking a stick out of a wooden box, then matching the symbol to the drawer full of paper fortunes. My fortunes: The lost article will be found later. The person you wait for comes late. Building a house and removal are both good, but a half fortune. To start a trip is all right. Marriage of any kind and new employment are both half fortune and gets better later.

We stop at the everything store: Don Quijote to buy a snack and check out the strange food, like Matcha KitKats or seaweed flavored potato chips.

Next, we take a Tokyo Canal tour, ending up at a tea house in Hamarikyu gardens.

It was a very hot and humid day, but the rain arrived while we were enjoying out matcha and cooled things off.

Matcha is made by grinding up tea leaves and stirring it into hot water… I’m more of an Earl Grey fan.

We rode the train out to Kagurazaka for dinner & a Shinto Shrine. The shine was much smaller than expected but dinner made up for it. The waiters wore paper hats and aprons like a 50’s diner but you ordered your meal from a vending machine! Yummy dinner for $3!

Joey orders for me and appreciates my tempura/noodle bowl.

On the way back to the capsule hotel we wandered through the entertainment district to pass by the Robot Restaurant. It cost $60 for dinner and a show- which involved scantily clad women operating these robots and other such nonsense- all accompanied by super loud music and a million flashing lights. Yikes.

Back to the hotel. I was beat and tomorrow I’d take my first ride on the bullet train!

I’ll leave you with a lovely painting from the ceiling of this morning’s temple. Her skirt reminds me of something Gustaf Klimt would paint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All about Umbrellas.

The Japanese love umbrellas. They love the tall, clear ones with hooked handles. The love the paper sun parasols. They love tiny umbrellas that look like Geisha and fit in your purse. They also love not getting direct sun exposure. So, despite the weather being nearly perfect, I saw plenty of umbrellas in Japan this week.

The Japanese are a very conscientious bunch. They have the good of the nation to keep in mind. For example, when they feel a cold coming on, they wear face masks to keep their germs to themselves. It follows that they do not want to inconvenience other people with their soggy umbrellas.

Umbrella Condoms: The thing that first caught my eye, was what Brent referrs to as ‘Umbrella Condoms’. There are machines outside of stores to slide your umbrella in the top and pull it out the side with a plastic bag on it.

Umbrella Lockers: In this scenario, you lock your umbrella up outside the store.

 

Umbrella Shaking Area: This handy device was spotted outside City Hall and has a tray under it to catch the water that falls off your umbrella when you shake it back and forth.

As much as the Japanese love umbrellas, they seem to lack an American appreciation for SOAP. Yes, handsoap. They do not provide it in the bathrooms! The Japanese ladies I’ve seen quickly rinse their hands and head out. No soap, no paper towels… its pretty amazing that I haven’t gotten sick yet.

 

 

 

 

 

How to survive a night in a Capsule Hotel in 5 easy steps.

Trip Date: 9/24/2015
To give you an idea of what its like sleeping inside of a capsule, let’s use our imaginations. Picture two bathtubs stacked on top of eachother (lip to lip) and bolted in place. A large hole has been cut into the end and covered with a retractable screen. Inside, there is a TV bolted to the ceiling and an array of plugs and dials. It looks like someone from the 50’s was asked to create ‘the bed of the future’.
If you are ready to cozy up inside of 2 standard-size bathtubs or 1 refrigerator box, then you’re ready to stay in a Capsule Hotel! Just like ME!
Reasons to stay in a capsule hotel.
It’s usually the cheapest way to sleep in Tokyo. ($25 vs. $85!)

Free amenities. PJ’s are provided Aso, disposable slippers that smell like almond. Free towels.

All the toiletries you could ever use. (Plus the toothbrushes come loaded. Awesome. Why don’t we have that in teh US?)

Great showers! Lots of hot water. Good pressure & it only took a few tries to figure out how to adjust the temp.

The toilet lids are heated, mechanized & play music. (I still have’t figured out what all the buttons do…)
The Wi-Fi is pretty fast! (This is notable: Japan has weak/hard to find WiFi.)

FYI- This capsule hotel has a lot of rules. And rule #1 is no shoes past the entry way. They are super strict and make you lock your shoes in a locker and bring the key to the front desk before you can check in. Also, no eating in your capsule … Or the shower. Seems reasonable so far. They keep everyone out of the hotel every day from 10 am until 4pm, even if you are staying multiple days. They charge $4 to keep something threre from 10-4pm.

I really enjoyed the quiet atmosphere of the capsule hotel. The female guests were Japanese business women, with a few travelers thrown in for good measure. I’d go back! ¬†You should try one.

Posted with BlogsyPosted with Blogsy

Travel Memories: a prediction.

Lovely LA smog.
I am posting this entry from my airport nemeis, LAX. The last time I was here I was sick (sorry fellow passengers), tired (I was arriving back from a 4 month trip) and I had just missed my connecting flight. My travel agent couldn’t rebook me until the morning but I wanted to be home so badly it hurt. I called my parents, bawled my eyes out and then deposited myself onto a padded bench with a table built into the middle of it. (It may have been an early prototype of those sleep-proof park benches.) That night sucked. It still stands as my most miserable day of travel to date… in fact – I can remember the date exactly, because it was my 24th birthday. Looking back, it was just discomfort, not danger and I count my lucky stars for all the years of safe travel between now and then. May they continue.

Now, onto happier memories… that I haven’t made yet.

*An introspective moment at a temple. (I’ll write a whole blog about ‘thin places’ where the centuries of worshipers have worn thin the veil that separates heaven and earth.)

*A unique connetion with another traveler. (ie. “No way! You were at that Beck show in Nashville this summer!?)

*An annoying interaction with monkeys. (A monkey broke into my room in Kenya & ate all my gum on the 1st week of a 4 month study abroad program. Plus, they are creepily human looking.)

*Make someone smile, even though we don’t speak the same language.

*Eat fresh Sushi, Pho (Vietnamese soup) and at least 1 fresh fruit I’ve never had before.

*Take a cooking class! (If you’re lucky, I’ll make you some Pho when I get back!)

*Awkward communal nudity at a Japanese Onsen. (When in Rome….right?)

*Riding bikes down ancient streets.

*Hiking in the rice terraces of northern Vietnam.

*Hanging out with an Asian elephant at a sanctuary.

*Visiting Meaghan’s classroom of Cambodian 2nd graders.

*Give someone a gift.

That’s my list so far…

What things do you look forward to when you travel?

 

 

 

22 x 16 x 9: Tales of a disgruntled over-packer.

Hello, I'm Adrienne and I'm a chronic over-packer. I carry snacks, gum, water and Aleve on a daily basis. I usually have my camera and an extra layer to ward off the evening chill. I like to have all my things with me. I don't travel light, I travel prepared.

Now, here I am, deciding that I that SE Asia will be easier to navigate if I succumb to the airline's tiny 22x16x9 carry-on size. Le sigh.

I have been trolling the interwebs, looking for inspirational packing posts like this one- (theartofsimpletravel) where Tsh will be traveling for a whole year with less clothes than I've planned on taking for 3 months. A whole YEAR! Impressive. Maybe I can do this… maaybe.

So far, this is what fits in my carry on. I'll also have a shoulder bag.

 

Clothes

1 rainjacket & my tiny Patagonia windbreaker that I wore all over Europe last fall.

1 jog bra/ 2 other bras

2 pairs of socks / 7 undies

1 pair of pants

1 pair of capris

1 pair of shorts

1 skort

1 over-the-knee length skirt (for visiting temples)

2 tank tops / 2 T-shirts

1 long sleeve shirt (for cool mt. towns)

Chaco sandals (newly resoled in Rockford, Mi!)

Lightweight running shoes

1 hat / 3 headbands

I am planning on buying a scarf (or 4) on my travels

Toiletries

Deodorant, sunscreen, tooth brush & paste, razor, soap, hotel-size shampoo & conditioner, Tweezers & small mirror (gotta keep these eyebrows in check!) Q-tips!

First aid kit

Bandaids: assorted.

Moleskin for blisters

Hydrocortisone cream (for itching)

Triple antibiotic ointment

Digital themometer

1 pair of disposable gloves

Tiny scissors

Duct tape

Electrolyte packets

 

Documents

Traveler insurance info: I'm using World Nomads.

Proof of Vaccinations

Contact Card: Family at home, people in country and places I've reserved to stay in each country

Passport (valid for at least 6 months!), Color copies of my passport, copies of my credit cards

Printed travel itinerary with confirmation #s for flights, etc.

 

Electronics and Randomness

Travel journal & colored pencils

Gum, granola bars & fruit leather

Little gifts like stickers & Michigan-edition quarters

IPad, charger and a ton of really helpful travel apps (listed in this blog post.)

A book to read and trade at a hostel when I'm done.

My tiny new camera the Panasonic Lumix Lx7! It has a Leica lens & full manual controls. Since I'm a Canon girl, this has taken some getting used to- but the photos are coming out lovely! It's SO much smaller!

70 GB of SD cards, Apple card reader (to load photos onto my iPad), extra camera battery and charger

Adapters! (Since all my electronics have voltage ranges from 120-240 I don't need a converter!)

 

I am certain to amend this list, there are a few things that I've neglected to put in the photos because I'm not sure if they'll fit now that I've decided to go carry-on!

10 days til wheels-up!

 

My most favorite travel accessory… my iPad!

My iPad/iPhone is my most useful travel equipment. (Even when I don’t have service!)

Natasja & her iPad, in the window of our Prague Hostel, 2013

Last fall, while Natasja & I were trying to connect with my lost (& very jet lagged) parents Рmy ULMON PRAGUE app saved the day.  Seriously.  Well, my iPad and Saint Ludwila.  I thought my parents were just going to give up and go to Slovakia without me.  (Read the account here.)  That experience cemented my iPad mini at the top of my must-have travel accessories.

Here are the apps that I am taking on my trip.

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Ulmon (for big cities)

This app is perfect for me because (as anyone who has ever driven anywhere with me will know) I am directionally challenged.  Even off-line, I can touch the blue navigation arrow and it will show me where I am on the map as I walk through the city!  It also lists all the most common tourist sights and allows me to search for the locations of temples, restaurants and cat cafes!

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Postagram

Have you ever wished that YOU could be in the photos on the vacation postcards that you send to your friends? Now you can send a REAL POSTCARD & it only costs you $1/each! ¬†Personalized postcards¬†are super fun and since they are printed in the USA, then mailed to your destination, it’s a quick way to get mail to your friends in the States while you are abroad!

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Google Drive

All of my flight info, travel insurance policy, contact info and my travel itinerary are in a file that I can share with the people who need to know where I am at all times. I also did a 8GB photo file download while at a friend’s house in Bangkok to free up another card for my camera!

 

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Blogsy

This is the app WAS my favorite app to use to post my ‘Adventures of a Michigander’ blog since I’m not bringing my laptop. ¬†I did buy an iPad case with a keyboard for the trip. Unfortunately, Blogsy will not have a new update and is no longer compatible with¬†the newest iOS. Now, I just use WordPress.

 

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 TripIt

All of my flight details are gleaned from my¬†confirmation emails without any effort on my part! It’s pretty useful when you frequently buy cheap tickets on Skyscanner¬†b/c they are less than train tickets!

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 SmartTraveler

Safety First! ¬†This is where I check the government travel warnings for the 7 countries I’ll be traveling in.

 

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Trail Wallet

At the end of my trip, I’ll be able to use this app to see charts on my spending. ¬†It will break it down to how much I spent per day & on what. ¬†I’m sure you’re already looking forward to that blogpost.

 

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Instagram

Find me¬†@adventuresofamichigander, to see photos that I don’t post on FB or my blog!

 

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Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 3.56.02 PMHostelBookers/Agoda:

Booking accommodation just got easier!

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 Heads Up!

Ellen DeGeneres designed this app and it’s hilarious to play with groups. ¬†It’s simple, your team tries to get you to say the word on the screen, as you hold the iPad on your forehead. ¬†The best part is the video it takes during the game – this game will make me lots of friends¬†when I get stuck inside during a rainstorm.

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Clue

It’s hard to keep track of the days when you travel so this app warns me when I might be feeling ‘PMSy’ rather than just ‘Hangry’. ¬†It’s very helpful.

 

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ToonCamera or Prisma

I love the way my photos look with this app!

WhatsApp/ FB Messanger

Text your new international friends for free on WhatsApp or use FB to make free video calls!

 

Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 10.17.28 PMFly Delta

The app is worth downloading simply for the Glass Bottomed Jet feature, where it will show you the places you’re flying over + which FB friends you’re flying over! ¬†Slightly stalker-ish but neat! *I was disappointed by this app and then PANICKED by this app when it sent me flight check-in reminders from the wrong time zone, causing me to think I’d missed my flight. Boo. Deleted.

Also: Kindle, FaceBook, iMessage, GoogleTranslate, plus some games and a 7-min workout app* that I never used.

If you’re still reading, leave your favorite travel apps in the comments, please!