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Saturday, October 31, 2009

There Ain't No King Kong in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is great! It's more modern and cosmopolitian than Shanghai and it's very clean!! I love it already!

The 5 minute walk from the subway stop to the hostel was a trip. The hotel's website says not to trust anyone on the street saying they are a hotel manager or staff member, because I guess they lie and try to get you to go to other hostels...Anyways we were approached by atleast 10 people with business cards asking if we needed a place to stay and some even said we were going to their hostel and they would show us the way! And others were offering to show us rolexes, gucci and prada! We finally found the right elevator in the building we needed, which is in the middle of a giant market. The building have 6 sets of 2 elevators so it took a minute for us to figure out the right one. Anyways we got here and thestaff is really nice and the room is clean. Do you know the size of two twin beds? Well that is the size of our room! With a little in front of the door thats about 3ft x 3ft. The bathroom is tiny. There is a toliet and a sink and standing room so you can hold the shower head and take a shower standing!! It sounds worse than it is. Beisides the size, it's totally fine.Our hotel is located in a great area full of shopping and restaurants. We are less than 10 minutes from the ferry docks and the Promanade along the Bay.
We walked along the avenue of stars and the Promanade yesterday, after we dropped our laundry off to get washed, which cost me 30 hong kond dollars ($4).

The Avenue of Stars

We got dinner at a chinese restaurant, go figure. I had stewed veggies with rice noodles and squid, it was so nice to have GREEN vegetables!! After that we walked back to the promanade and watched the light show, it was spectacular. We are staying on Kowloon, which is right across the Victoria Harbour from Hong Kong (only two metro stops) and all the buildings on the Hong Kong side light up different colors for 20 minutes everynight while they place music over loud speakers, it was great!

Hong Kong is the most international city I think I've ever visited in terms of the people, food/restaurants, shopping, markets. I had no idea that so many Indian and Middle Easteners lived here. There are more kebab stands and Indian and Pakistian restaurants in this city than every other city I've been to combined (ok, maybe not, but you get the picture.)

We spent the day on Hong Kong Island. We took the Peak Tram up to the Peak, which has amazing views of the city & Kowloon .

Views from the Sky Terrace at the Peak Tower (Hong Kong is nearest, Kowloon is across the bay)

over looking the Islands off of Hong Kong Island

Hong Kong is very steep and hilly, with hundreds of same roads and alleys full of all different types of shops, bars and street markets & vendors.

 I loved walking around the Central area of Hong Kong! All through the central area are the famous escalators. Hong Kong has the longest outdoor civered escalator system in the wrold! So after lunch and walking around we went and rode on the escalators all over the city! We went to Super City, which is a gigantic supermarket with every type of food and drinks from all over the world you could imagine.It was really similar to the grocery stores in Japan, but it had international foods too. There were people doing cooking demonstrations of betty crooker cookies & muffins, and hundreds of free samples being passed out from baked goods to fish to candy, etc. All I got was a water bottle and soy joy bars!! (which are cheaper here than in the US and only 60 cents in China, and they have more flavors here too!)

A Chinese Herbal Shop, with dried fish and other smelly gross animal parts I couldn't recognize.

We went to the Happy Valley Race Course afterwards, but there weren't any races going on today. We got to peek inside and look at the track though. It reminded me a lot of the racetrack in Saratoga, but it also had soccer fields and rugby fields inside the inner circle of the track.

We having been missing sushi so much that I think we are gonna go to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant we passed earlier today, later for dinner then it's off to celebrate Halloween in Hong Kong!! There seems to be alot of fixed dinner menus and events at restaurants and bars but I don't think people really dress up here, but we'll see!

Happy Halloween!!

Friday, October 30, 2009

18 hours on a train

I’ve never done anything like this before! We are on the over night train to Hong Kong. Instead of two bunks, 4 people to a room with soft beds, Tvs, clean and modern rooms, we are in the same size room with 6 people on hard beds. It is quite an experience. No one else in our room speaks English so it’s pretty quiet except for Katie and I, who are on the top and have hit our heads a few times. We can’t even sit up straight without our heads hitting the ceiling. Climbing up here was a trip, I just hope I don’t need to go get down to go to the bathroom!! When I climb down I can't reach the floor or the bottom step (which is smaller than the size of my foot by the way) so I have to dangle from the bar and jump off, our Chinese roommates definetly get a kick out of that everytime I do it.

I couldn't even sit up straight in my bed!

This was our room, 6 bunks and I had to dangle from that bar on the left side of the picture and jump in order to get down! 

We left Shanghai at 6:30 and should get to Hong Kong around 12:30 tomorrow afternoon. I can’t wait to get there and shower!!! I’m also looking forward to getting out of China, the rudeness and pushing was starting to get to me really bad today. We haven’t even been on the train for two hours yet and we are already going stir crazy, and we just realized the chocolate we bought expired in August 2008. We definitely should have bought a bottle of wine before getting on this train…

Everyone brought tupperware containers with ramen noodles and either veggies, meat, etc, to eat. Every room on the train has a hot water kettle and there are hot water "stations" at the ends of every car so people can refill the kettles and add the water to their ramen noodles. Also it's very popular to buy noodles in a box and fill the cardboard box with the hot water.

Good thing I have a book and a deck of cards, maybe we’ll play rummy 10,000 all night. I just hope no one snores and I don’t fall off the bed!

It's always an adventure in China

The overnight train wasn’t so bad. We shared a room with two Chinese men, and they were silent the whole ride. We were in a soft-sleeper room, the beds weren’t bad but I couldn’t imagine what a hard sleeper would be like. I fell asleep right away and was woken up at 6am by a crew member, even though we had over 1.5 hours left until we arrived.

We went right to our hostel that morning and luckily we could go to our room right away and SHOWER! We shared a room with two guys, Andre who is 22, from Sweden and Emilio who is 27 and from Colombia. I never would have thought that I would meet so many Spanish speakers on this trip! I got to practice my Spanish a lot with Emilio later that night when the 4 of us went out. I can’t get over how many people we have met who are traveling in China for so long! Andre is here for 3 months and Emilio a few weeks, and everyone else we meet is here for at least a few weeks as well.

We walked around Shanghai all day. It’s much much more metropolitan than Beijing, and a lot less culture and historical sites. The buildings and architecture here is festinating, it’s so modern and futuristic looking.

The Pearl Tower

One thing that shocked me is how much construction is going on here. Almost every single road is being redone or a building is being built or renovated. Shanghai is the host of the Expo in 2010 and there are signs everywhere that say “Better City. Better Life.” SO they are obviously trying to revamp and improve the city before May. I would love to come back here in a few years and see how much the city changes.

Old Town Shanghai

We went to Old Town first, which I really liked. Most of the buildings are old temples that have been turned into little restaurants and shops. The roads are small, kind of like a lot of little alley ways, most only for pedestrians. There is a small pond and gardens in the middle of Old Town with a bridge that zig zags over the pond. This was definitely my favorite part of Shanghai. After that we grabbed a little lunch and tried dumplings for the first time, which is one of the most popular Chinese foods. I had pork and shrimp filled dumplings, which tasted like McDonalds sausage and I will never eat them again!

Andre was nice enough to lend us his guide book for the day so we followed the walking tour guide of the French Concession area. It has a very French European vibe and the buildings reminded me of Paris a lot. As we were walking we passed a farmers market that was going on in the park. Everyone is so pushy there too! I just can’t get over how pushy and rude everyone is here, it just blows my mind. People will cut you in line or cut you off or just stop dead in their tracks while walking even if there are hundreds of people al around them, and then I end up walking right into them. They are so inconsiderate, even at the post office today a lady was trying to hold a heavy box and lift something else and there was a man who cut in front of her and didn’t even offer to help!

Anyways, we cut the walking tour short, the guide said it should take 3 hours to do the whole walk. I think we walked for 30 minutes. We decided to go to the Markets. Before we even steped inside a guy came right up to us with pictures of Louis Vutton bags and Rolex watches and was trying to get us to go to his stall on the second floor. He followed us and harassed us for almost 30 mintutes. We tried to walk away but he would just wait for us to come out of a store and keep on following us, even after we yelled at him. I don’t know how, but we finally ditched him. The market we were at was pretty bad, it was stuffy and really depressing, not like the one in Beijing at all. I did get a really cute pair of boots though!

When we got back to our hostel to take our afternoon nap we were told that there were no trains to Hong Kong on the 30th, they only go there on odd days, So we totally screwed that up when planning this trip back in June. So we decided to leave on the 29th, we did not want to be stuck on a train all night on Halloween. We also found out that there are no express trains from Shanghai to Hong Kong like the one we took from Beijing, and that it is an 18 hour ride! The soft sleeper beds were expensive so we got the cheapest hard sleeper, we could only imagine what it is going to be like. Since our time in Shanghai was going to be cut short we decided to live it up and go out that night, seeing that Shanghai is known for their night life. We had dinner with Emilio and Andre, I tried the famous peking duck and I also had squid which I really liked too. We read online that there were a few bars in this one area that had great deals on Wednesday nights so we went there. There was no one there when we got there but by the time we left the second bar it was filled with mostly foreign older men and Chinese women who were dressed pretty nice and hanging out with the men. I think we were not in the best area, if you know what I mean. One man even brought his 12 year old soon with him to the bar and they were playing pool and flirting with two the Chinese women, I couldn’t believe it! We went to a club after that called M2. It cost 1200rmb, almost $200, to just sit at a table. So we decided not too, and dancing was more fun anyways. We had heard about a deal 10 drinks for 100rmb so that worked out even better for us. Andre and I got pulled up front to the stage while we were dancing by the mc’s and got hats and I think we were being filmed too, it was pretty fun. The four of us had such a fun time and we ended up staying up til almost 3:30am!! You could say that I was pretty tired this morning.

squid and peking duck for dinner!

At dinner with one of our roommates Andre

Katie & I out in Shanghai! 

Luckily we slept in and spent the day shopping! We went to the better market and we got some great deals on Longchamp bags! Originally the lady at the shop wanted to charge us over $700 for the 25 bags we bought (only 3 were mine) but we talked her down and only spent $106!!! I also got three others for $21, and a really cute coach wallet, because my other wallet ripped a few days ago.

It’s a lot warmer in Shanghai than Beijing and it’s just gonna get warmer and warmer as we head south so we decided to ship some of our warm clothes and our purchases from the market home to lighten our loads. Finding the post office was such a process. It was not up one block, cross the street, walk three blocks and turn left. This is what we were told at the hostel and he even showed us a map and where the post office was. Let me just say that he was wayyyyyy off with the location. Thank god Katie has a visual translator book, which has over 1000 pictures in it and we used this to ask people the way. Once we got there they had to “inspect” everything we were shipping home, and they wouldn’t let me send home the nail polish I bought!! ( O.P.I for $1) All in all the whole trip took us an hour. I just hope the box actually makes it to the states!

The Great Wall of China

On Monday Katie and I went to the Great Wall of China with Alex and Andy, our two American roommates. We decided to save some money and take the public bus to Baldaling instead of doing an organized bus trip our hostel offered. Finding the right 919 bus was a process. There are about 20 buses numbered 919 at the same station, which is huge, but not all of them go to the same place. A Chinese Man with a Red Cross Badge kept yelling - the Chinese way of talking- at us to follow him and we were hesitant at first because we had no idea where he was going to lead us to. But after refusing a few times we finally decided to follow him because we were having no luck on our own, and it turns out he was just trying to help us. We were so skeptical because the Chinese are not very kind to strangers, most people turn away from us when we show them our map and ask for directions.

The Great Wall was amazing!! I can’t believe I was actually there! It’s huge, obviously, and just goes on and on forever through the hills and mountains and the views were incredible. It was a tough hike and we weren’t even at the hardest section! The stairs are uneven and different heights. And there are some parts where there are no stairs and you have to walk up or down a steep incline/decline. It kept going up and down and left and right, but it was fun! We hiked for a few hours and took a “trolley” ride back down. It was more like a miniature rollercoaster ride you could find at the Marshfield Fair. There was also a bear park near the entrance so we got to feed the bears, who would have thought!?

Katie & I climbing the Great Wall

When we got back to Beijing we went to the Olympic Park and saw the Water Cube and the main Stadium that looks like a bird’s nest, all lit up, it was pretty cool to see.

The Water Cube

2008 Beijing Olympic Site

For dinner we went to a Chinese restaurant and yes the Chinese food here is totally different from home. I actually like it so much better!!! I had grilled eggplant in some kind of sauce, once again I had no idea what the sauce was, but it was good! I also tried wide rice noodles (delicious) and chicken with chili and asparagus, complete with bones! The chicken was cut into bite size chunks but there was still bone inside, and its custom to just spit it out on your plate. It was gross but everyone was doing it…And after that dinner I felt really strange. I got lightheaded and hot and almost fainted, I felt almost like I was drunk even though I only had a sip of Alex’s beer. But the feeling finally passed and I was ok and then I tried snake and starfish at the market. The snake was chewy and gross and the starfish was really crunchy and not so good either. I didn’t have the guts to eat the other things Alex tried but he claimed they were all much better than what I tried.

Our last day in Beijing was more relaxing. We all ate breakfast together at the hostel. I had a coffee, two eggs and a banana for 22rmb (which is just over $3). Everything here is so cheap, giant water bottles for 5rmb, food for as little as 1rmb and dinner tonight only cost me 25rmb (almost $4) for a big bowl of chicken & rice noodles in broth, which was delicious! We toured the Forbidden City and went to the Temple of Heaven. We got our first massages today for $14. It was a 70 minute foot massage, which started with soaking our feet in hot ginger water, and a very nice and longggg foot and calf massage. They also gave us a 15minute free back and neck massage. It was one of the best massages I’ve ever had and my feet felt great afterwards, I can’t wait for the next one!

We are on the overnight sleeper train to Shanghai right now. It’s a 12 hour ride and we get in at 7am. I am looking forward to Shanghai, and the warmer weather there. It was 48-degrees Fahrenheit when we left Beijing tonight. It was in the 50s & 60s while we were there and the weather forecast says 70s in Shanghai, yay! I just hope the people on the subway in Shanghai aren’t as pushy as the people in Beijing. They would literally walk right into and elbow us to get on and off the train. The trains were also packed, I felt like I was stuffed in a can of sardines sometimes!

I'm a laowai in Beijing

                                                              15 girls on one bicycle

scorpions, silk worms..too many bugs for me! 

So I was told that it takes 6 months after leaving China for your lungs to recover from all the SMOG and air pollution!

I can’t get over the smog here! I thought it was cloudy when we first got here, but then I realized it’s the smog. You can feel it in the air too…

China is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before. There are some interesting, and VERY strange customs here. Some really gross me out. Little kids don’t wear diapers here, instead they have slits in the bottom of their pants so they can just pop a squat whenever they have to go to the bathroom wherever they are, and I really mean anywhere, the middle of the sidewalk, the middle of Tiananmen Square or the subway train. There’s a lot of spitting here too, and pushing and shoving and the streets smell like pee! Speaking of pee..there are very few places that have western style bathrooms, most public toilets are squatters. Funny thing I learned is that when they started putting in western toilets the Chinese people stood on them thinking they were raised squatting toilets!

Besides that China is a really interesting place. We spent our first four days in Beijing. We walked around Tiananmen Square, which is huge (it’s the largest public square), visited the Forbidden City and the Palace Museum, and we tried to see Mao’s Tomb but it was closed this morning! On our first afternoon here, we were walking around the Square and two Chinese girls our age stopped us and said they would show us around they could practice their English with us - they are English teachers- so we did, and it worked out great because it was like having a personal tour guide. They took us to the oldest part of China which has a really cute street with lots of shops and restaurants and a tram that runs down the middle of it. That night we walked around Wangfujing Market. It’s the same market that Andrew Zimmern went to on his show Bizarre Foods. They sell everything there from glazed fruit to fried ice cream to chicken hearts to scorpions! On our first night we tried fried pumpkin and fried banana. The pumpkin didn’t taste a lot like what I expected, which was pumpkin pie! And I don’t know if there was actually any banana in the fried banana balls. I ended up trying snake and starfish two nights later with Alex from our hostel. He also tried Scorpion, seahorse, centipede, and silk worm! I was not brave enough to do that but it was definitely entertaining to watch him! We had a crowd following us and an old Chinese man ended up buying the centipede for Alex

I feel like a celebrity here! People stop me on the street and ask if they can take their picture with me! It’s so funny, but its fun to see how excited they get!

We spent a whole afternoon at the Summer Palace, and could have spent more time if we wanted to. It is huge!! (2.97 square kilometers!) The grounds are really pretty and there is a giant lake on the grounds too. We even got to climb a few rocks to get up to the top of the Palace.

Me at the Summer Palace 

That night we went to the Chaoyang Theater and saw an acrobatics show. We paid 180rmb (about $26) for our 3rd row VIP seats! They did all sorts of acrobatic “tricks”, I really enjoyed it! They did mess up a few times and I thought one of the guys was going to fall on us at one point because we were so close to the stage. After that we went to the night market, there they have a lot of the same foods as Wangfujing and lots of souvenir and other types of shops & stalls.

We also visited the Pearl Market and the Silk Market. You can get anything fake you could ever dream of here!! They have everything - polo, Abercrombie, Gucci, Longchamp, Rolex, its endless! I bought a few things, but I’m saving my big shopping for Shanghai. It’s overwhelming at times because they literally attack you and ask you to look at their stuff and I was even grabbed and pulled into a stall by one woman! It’s fun to haggle with them though and when we walk away they come running after us and agree to our prices! It started raining on our way home that night so we got a ride in a rickshaw back to the hostel. The driver told me, about 15 times in our less than 5 minute ride, that I was so beautiful. I’ve also been proposed to by a street market vendor.

We were supposed to stay with a man named Kevin and “couch surf”, but the phone number he had given me was not his and we had no way of contacting him at the airport so we found a hostel instead. It actually worked out pretty well. The hostel was nothing compared to the one in Kyoto but it was in a great location and we met some really nice people; Carlos from Barcelona, Andy from Michigan who is living in China right now and Alex from St. Louis who is working & living in New Zealand. We also had a little old Chinese guy in our room too, but he kept to himself.

We learned the words for foreigner, loawai and wai guoren, which are derogartory here, and now that i know them I hear people say them all the time when we walk past them..

Friday, October 23, 2009

Last few days in Japan

Me Katie & her friend Regina

The weather in Japan has been great since we got here. it’s been sunny and warm very day! Kyoto is definitely one of my favorite places here. I would saw it has the most culture and history than anywhere else we’ve been and you really can see & feel it.

Our third day in Kyoto was much better. Katie’s friend Regina met us at the hostel and she was our personal tour guide for the next two days. She has been to Kyoto before and has lived in Japan for over a year and was so helpful and answered all our questions! We started the morning really early and I finally had a cup of coffee, 6 days without coffee is way too long for me! We went to the Sanjusangendo Temple. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside, but there are 1001statues of the Buddhist diety Kannon inside the temple. 124 of them were made in the 1100’s and the rest were made in the 1200’s. They are all lined up in perfect rows on either side of the gigantic statue. We walked around the city FOREVER and only took the bus once. We saw so many temples, that after a while they start to blend together. But I really liked the Kiyomizu Temple, which you could look out into the mountains and see a Buddhist temple off in the distance. It was beautiful and the foliage reminded me of home!

Kiyomizu Temple

At the parade.

Every October 22nd the city has a festival called the Jidai Matsuri to celebrate its anniversary as a city. This year was the 1,100-year and we got to see the parade with people dressed up as ancient warriors and emperors, etc. from all the different time periods. While we were watching a little old man handed me a brochure that was in English & Japanese so I could understand each of the different parts of the parade, and he let me keep it! The old men here have been so nice to me! That sounds weird, ha, but yesterday another old man asked if we needed help, even though we had already figured out where we were going, and also gave us some advice and I think he just wanted to practice his English but he was very sweet.

In the afternoon we walked down the Path of Philosophy and saw even more shrines and temples. All shrines are free to see and enter but almost all the temples have admission fees, and don’t offer student discounts which is annoying.

That night we went out do dinner with our French roommate David, I tried cooked oysters for the first time, then we played Plachinko, the gambling game everyone here is addicted too. We lost of course. Karaoke is very very popular here. It’s different than in the states. Here you get a private room for you and whoever you are with and they serve you drinks in your room and you pay by the hour. Each karaoke venue has like 8 floors, which different themed rooms on each floor. We had a blast doing it!

Me Katie and our French roommate David in our Karaoke room.

Today we went to the Golden Temple called Kinkakuji Temple, it was beautiful! The whole thing is made out of gold and sits right next to a pond and it reflects off the pond. It’s surrounded by gardens, just like al the other temples, and it was so peaceful to walk around. We also went to the Ryoanji Temple and saw the famous rock garden there. I don’t know how, but looking at a rock garden is so peaceful too! Everything here really is so zen and I really do feel so at peace here.
Regina had us try all sorts of typical Japanese foods while we were in Kyoto. I tried a rice omelet, which tasted very Mexican to me, so obviously I liked it! They pour the ketchup on it for you before they serve it. I think we had half the bottle of ketchup on our omelet! I also tried cooked squid, kind of like calamari but without the batter and it was served with mayonnaise! Mayo is very popular here, they put it on everything!! Mochi, which is pounded rice is also very popular. It’s usually cut into triangles and filled with different pastes. I tried the one that had red bean paste in it. We tried other ones too, but I have no idea what they were. One tasted like a banana though. I also tried plum wine, which I spit back into the cup and I think I offended the lady, opps! I also had aloe and white grape juice, that had actual pieces of aloe on the bottom of the can that you drink. It was so good! I wish we had better juice drinks in America. They have every combination of fruit juice you could ever think of.

the Golden Temple.

Right now we are in Tokyo at a real capsule hotel before we leave for China! I much prefer the first capsule hostel we stayed at. This one is a little bit older and a little dirtier. And I am literally sleeping in a capsule. The only shower here is an onsen on the top floor (a public bath), so I might just wait until I get to China...We walked around the Asakusa area, where our hostel is, and it is a bit more touristy than other parts of the city, lots of souviner shops! We had sushi again tonight and I tried king crab leg sushi, it was really good and tasted like lobster!

My Capsule

I can’t believe how fast the first week flew by! I wish we had more time here to visit the country side and see rice fields and go to Mt.Fuji too. Oh well, I guess I will just have to come back one day!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


During our first afternoon in Kyoto, after we arrived, we walked around the area where our Ryokan is located. There is so much shopping here too!! We went to one of the big department stores, it had 9 floors and each one was bigger than a Macy’s store. In the basement is a “grocery store” and they also had hundreds of counters that sell prepared food, sushi, salads, raw fish, cookies, pastries, candy, bagels, etc. They were all passing out samples. We tried so many things, many of them I have no idea what it was.

We stayed in a Ryokan on our first night, it is a traditional Japanese Inn. We got served a seven course meal in our room. The dinner is called Kaiseki (when i looked it up it means many courses). It was beautifully arranged and presented on the table. Some dished had flowers or leaves on them as garnishes. We had miso Soup, a white soup-ish dish with pieces of fish in it, maybe made from tofu or soy or egg. I don’t know what it was but it was good, minus some of the fish.; Tempura fish (cod?) some type of green pepper I do not know the name of and a potato maybe, I didn’t eat the potato tasting tempura. We also had Sashimi - tuna & two other white/clear fish. Served with soy sauce and green horseradish; A simmered dish called takiawse, which had meat (a little over cooked if you ask me), mushrooms carrots and some other green vegetables. It was served in a dish over a flame and cooked in front of us which was pretty cool. We also had a bowl of rice, Japanese pickles - kounomono- A grilled Dish - piece of fish, gingerroot & also pearl onions wrapped and cooked in a some kind of leaf. For dessert we had fruit and tea. We also bought a botle of plum wine which we had with dinner too. I Didn’t know what half of the food was. Some didn’t have any taste. Some had a very strange texture.
Anyways after dinner they came in and cleaned everything up and pulled out our beds (mats and futons and blankets) and prepared the room for us. We were daring and went to the public bath in our hotel after dinner. It was definitely a different experience. I was expecting there to be a lot of people in there but it was only Katie and I, which made it a little bit easier. Did I mention you don’t wear a bathing suit?

Breakfast was interesting too. They woke up by knocking, then pounding on the door when we didn’t hear them. They unmade our beds and set the room for breakfast. We had miso soup, salad, many “appetizers” which are bite size, that we did not know, I ate about half of them; a soft boiled egg, rice, nori seaweed, which I have no idea what it was supposed to be used for, and tea.

We spent the day walking around Kytoto. We went to a market this morning at the Toji Temple. They sell everything there! And by everything I mean everything. They had so much food there too, and everyone was giving out samples again. I tried a persimmons, which are grown here and are very popular. Chestnuts are also really popular and we’ve seen so many chestnut roasting stands and shops. After that we went to an area called Arashiyama and saw a few temples there - The Horinji Temple, where we had to climb god knows how many stairs to get to it, and the Matsunoo Grand Shrine. there are sooo many more temples in Kyoto than anywhere we’ve been so far.

We bought the day pass for the bus and I am never riding on another bus in Japan after today! We had to wait so long for each bus and they were crowded and took too long. I’d prefer to rent a bike tomorrow, which would be so much easier. Everyone here rides bikes, some even text and smoke or wear high heels while they ride their bikes, its very impressive!

Tonight we went to the Gion area of the city, which is where the Geisha are. We tried to see them on the two streets they are supposed to walk on. But we only saw two girls in komonos and have no idea if they are Geisha. Everyone else seems to be “missing” them too. I’m gonna look this up later and try to figure it all out.

We had dinner at a conveyer belt sushi restaurant called a kaiten-sushi. I tried raw octopus, sea bream, tuna, sea urchin, and pork. I didn’t know it was pork until after I ate it. But really, who puts cooked pork in sushi?? Also I was told one of the pieces was horse meat…I hope not because it was raw, not like the horse meat I had the other night, and it was very chewy..I had to spit it into my napkin because after 10 minutes of trying I still couldn’t chew it! Some of the kinds of sushi they had were so interesting - different types of rose and at least 6 or 7 fish I’ve never heard of before. They also had quail egg, lobster salad, corn salad and seafood salad maki rolls. The only food I haven’t tried yet that I want to is jellyfish!

We are staying at a hostel tonight in a 6 person room with 4 other guys, two from France and one from England. The other one is a mystery to all of us. The guys are really nice. The two French guys bought us a drink tonight at the bar. They are all in their early 20s, and traveling just like us. One was just laid off, ones an engineer who quit his job and the other has yet to find a job since graduating 2 years ago..It's funny because we are all in the same boat, no jobs so we travel!

Katie & I with our backpacks! 

Monday, October 19, 2009

Kokura & Hiroshima

On Sunday night we had dinner in Kokura with Katie’s friend Ami. We ate at a Izakaya, a pub-type restaurant where you can order all different kinds of Japanese dishes. We paid 1000 Yen for all you can drink for 2 hours, and we each had to order two dishes. We tried shrimp flavored chips, edamame, pork dumplings, Chiizu-age - deep fried cheese, fried rice balls, raw horse meat and Yakitori which is chicken on a skewer, we had kawa (chicken skin), tsukune (chicken meatballs), chicken meat and chicken wings (tebasaki). I also tried a few of their “sour” cocktaials, like mango sour and strawberry sour, they are not sour at all, they are actually very sweet. And I really liked the plum wine! We had to take off our shoes before going inside the restaurant, so we ate barefoot! At our hostels and peoples homes we always have to take off our shoes and they give you slippers to wear if you are brave enough, I just wear my socks. After dinner we walked to Kokura Castle, which was all lit up.

On Monday we got up pretty early and headed straight to Hiroshima. We climbed the Hiroshima Castle, saw the A-Dome (the Atomic Bomb Dome), Hiroshima peace memorial and we went to the Peace Memorial Museum as well. The museum definitely displays the war, pre and post, from the Japanese point of view, and it was very interesting to see it this way. They barely mentioned Pearl Harbor and the attack there. It was sad to see all the artifacts, clothing and toys they had on display that they found in the rubble in Hiroshima after the bombing. They even had pictures of burnt bodies! I got nauseous after the first few and had to leave that room really quick.

We walked around the city again at night and I still can’t get over the amount of shopping and malls they have!!! Also the endless number of restaurants too, but the shopping is unbelievable! I wanted to buy so many things and I was so tempted to and just leave some of my clothes at the hostel, but I decided not to.

For dinner we ate at a Restaurant that specializes in Okonomi-yaki, which is famous in Hiroshima. Everyone kept calling it the Japanese pizza-pancake, but the only resemblance is the round shape. It is made on a hibachi grill with eggs, shredded cabbage, bacon, soba noodles and if you want you can add cheese, mayonnaise, dried squid, leeks, shrimp, etc. We added some type of Japanese herb to it. It wasn’t bad, but I don’t think I’d order it again. I also tried spicy raw squid, which was not as chewy as I expected it to be, and I had green at ice cream for dessert, which was one of the strangest things I’ve ever tried. I had one bite and threw it out. You can just imagine what ice cream made out of tea tastes like…Anyways, I feel like I am on a culinary adventure in Japan. I’m having a lot of fun trying all the different dishes. There are so many things on the menus here that they consider traditional Japanese food that I’ve never seen on Japanese menu at home.

Speaking of food…we went to a grocery store last night and could barely tell what half of the food was, even the things that had pictures! It was interesting. And the Fuji apples (from the Fuji region in Japan) and three times the size of apples at home.

Our room at the J-Hoppers Hostel in Hiroshima had a different type of Japanese sleeping arrangement. We slept on futons on floors made out of straw, and they are so much more comfortable then the futon mattresses we have at home! We had an all female room with two other woman, one was from Barcelona so I got to speak Spanish with her because she didn’t really speak English very well. Of course I would find a way to speak Spanish on this trip! Haha
This morning we went to Miyajima, which is an island off of Hiroshima. It only took us 20 minutes by train and less than a 10 minutes ferry ride to get there. Both the train and the ferry are run by the JR so we got to us our JR rail pass, which is definitely paying off!

On the island we went to the O-torii Gate, which is what makes the Island so famous. On the Island there are deer everywhere and they come right up to you too! We even saw one in a book shop! The town and shops here are numerous, as always, and it had a very different feeling from the big cities we’ve been in. I really enjoyed it and wish we had had more time there to explore the rest of the Island. We tried Momiji manju, which is a maple leaf shaped cake with a filling. I had the one filled with chocolate and Katie had cream cheese. They also had ones filled with raisins, almonds, bean paste, red paste, custard, whole get the picture. All the shops make them right there and we got to watch them being made, it was really neat! Oysters from the Hiroshima Bay are also well-known here and were everywhere on the Island. That is the one thing I wish I had gotten to try, but I just couldn’t stomach the thought of eating oysters at 9am.
We are now on the train to Kyoto. We were rushing a little to make our train and when we got to track 14 one train was about to leave and I thought it was ours so we got on. It wasn’t. We still had 6 minutes. We got on the super express train by accident, our pass is only good for the regular express trains, that was going direct to the same place but faster, and we didn’t have to change in Osaka. So that ended up working out perfectly. And no one checked our tickets for about 45 minutes so we sat in really nice seats for a while.
We are staying at a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. I am very excited because there are hot baths here and my shoulders are starting to get a little sore from my backpack. Also I think we’ve walked at least 5 miles everyday, but I think it’s actually more than that. It’s nice because we get to see so much more of the city this way and the weather has been beautiful so we’ve gotten to enjoy that too. The past few days have been sunny and warm , 20-24 degrees Celsius, I’m not sure what that is in Fahrenheit but its nice! I’m so glad I’m not at home in the cold rain and snow!

Kokura Castle

Raw Horse Meat

Shrimp flavored chips

I'm having a hard time up loading my pictures to my blog but I've put them up on facebook so you can check them out!

Sunday, October 18, 2009


This is a side street in Shinjuku

Tokyo Is HUGE! I can’t get over how big the city is! We arrived Friday at Narita Airport and would probably still be on the train to our hostel if it weren’t for these two Japanese girls who decided to help us, we must have looked so lost! They showed us where to transfer lines and everything. We understand the subway system now but at first we had no Idea, because there are so many lines. We stayed at the Ace Hostel, a wooden capsule hostel. I had a small locker to store my valuable things and slept in a “capsule” it was actually pretty big and quite comfy!

That night we had sushi in the Shinjuku district which is nicknamed the Times Square of Tokyo.

I tried a type of clam sushi, not so good! But I also had tuna, cucumber and roe maki, and a few different types of sashimi too -tuna, salmon, yellowtail.The roe here is sooo different, it’s so big compared to what we have at home. The fish is so fresh here I love it!! We saw hundreds of adult arcades, apparently it’s very popular’s very strange.

The city is very clean, there is barely any liter or trash on the streets or sidewalks And the subways are also extremely clean and modern, I was pretty surprised by this. About 1 in 15-20 people wear face masks, which I did not expect to see in Japan.

We were exhausted by the end of the day so we went to bed pretty early. On Saturday we woke up at 4:45am, yes I know that is extremely early. We went to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. We got there too late to see the tuna auctioning - that is over by 6am! We walked around the whole market, it was HUGE. There were hundreds of stalls selling fresh fish, shellfish, etc. We saw some pretty big tunas being cut up, it was interesting. There was also a produce market that is connected to the fish market and we bought what we thought were giant grapes, but actually tasted kind of like plums. Across the street from the Market are shops and stalls that sell the fish and produce to people. There were also a lot of sushi restaurants. We didn’t wait in the line at the “best” restaurant, because it was wayyy too long. We still had to wait about 20 minutes to eat at the restaurant we chose. Thank god the menu had pictures so I knew what I was ordering. I had two types of tuna served on top of a bowl of rice with small pieces of nori (sushi seaweed) sprinkled on the rice. All the sushi restaurants there are small, and the one we ate at only had 15 or so seats at the bar. I had the freshest sushi that morning - at 7am - that I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.

After hat we headed over to Ginza, one of the most famous downtowns of Japan. There is endless shopping here, everything from H&M to Burberry to Tiffany & Co. I couldn’t get over the size of the buildings and stores and the endless amount of stores! Each store was more than one floor!!

By this time it was only 11 am so we headed over to the Imperial Palace and the East Gardens. We walked around the grounds for a while. It was a cloudy day so we couldn’t see Mt. Fuji from the viewing tower there. It’s located in the middle of the city, but when you are inside the Gardens you can’t even tell you are in a city! It was so peaceful there. I felt so at peace walking around the gardens. Unfortunately the cherry blossoms bloom in the Spring, so there were only a few left that still had the flowers on them. The whole area is surrounded by a mote which was really neat. And there were hundreds of Ginko trees which are so cool! After this we headed over to the Roppongi area to a building called Roppongi Hills. We went up to the 52nd floor of that building and saw 360-degree views of the city. It was the most amazing views. And from there you can see just how GIGANTIC the city really is. It just went on and on as far out as you could see/as far as you could see because of the clouds.

After this we were exhausted because we had been up for about 12 hours. We went back to the hostel to take a nap and shower before going out to dinner and experiencing the nightlife in Tokyo, but we didn’t wake up until 6:30 this morning! Opps

This morning we went to Yoyogi Park in Harajuku. This is the area Gwen Stafani always talks about. In the park we went to the Meiji Shrine, a shrine for Emperor Meiji who died in the late 19th century sometime. Before you g in you have to wash your hands and mouth with these long wooden spoon-types. I washed my hands, not my mouth though. We also saw a wedding precession there too.

Now we are on a train to Kokura, which is 50 minutes west of Hiroshima. We are going to visit Katie’s friend and spend the night with her. A lot of people have bamboo lunch boxes with meals inside so the train smells like fish and food, it’s not the best smell for a 3 hour train ride…

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Leaving in 4 Days!

When Katie and I were on Spring break in Jamaica, we took the longest walk ever down the beach and totally missed our destination because we were talking about and planning our next travel adventure after graduation. Both of us were about to graduate, didn't have jobs lined up for after graduation and we LOVE to travel so we decided why not go to Asia! Three months later we booked our trip and bought our tickets!

We are leaving in 4 days -this Thursday from Logan Airport, and I am sooooo EXCITED! We fly into Tokyo and will spend 8 days traveling around Japan. Then we are off to China, Hong Kong, The Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. I don't know how we are going to do it, but we've decided to only bring one backpack full of clothes & everything we need for our 6 weeks traveling.

I hope you all enjoy reading my blog & seeing my pictures.

See you all at Thanksgiving!

p.s. if you are interested Katie is keeping a blog too: