torrie's travels

WHERE WILL I GO NEXT?

Frustrating Food September 30, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 6:53 am

Today started off a little slower because we were up later than usual. I am still really tired all the time, but that’s no different than at home, I guess! We got some breakfast (baked goods) at the train station and hopped aboard the train to Saga-Arashiyama, which is the area of Kyoto that has a bamboo grove. It was very cool, though kind of short. It is about 200 meters (broken up into two sections). There were more people than I would have liked, but that’s to be expected, I suppose. I had no idea the bamboo grew to be so tall. It was like being in a “regular” forest. The stalks were very, very tall. In some parts, at the beginning, we could hear the wind rustling in the leaves up high, which was cool.

We then went to the Tenryu-ji Temple, which is situated in the bamboo grove and is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is a Buddhist temple and means “Temple of the Heavenly Dragon.” The Temple is renowned for its Zen garden. The garden is in the same form as it was in the 14th century when it was created. It was very beautiful and had many different types of plants, trees, flowers, and even moss! I could see it being very relaxing…if there were fewer (no?) people there and even fewer screaming children!

After the bamboo grove and temple we returned to Kyoto Station to catch a bus to the Golden Pavilion, also known as Kinkaku or the Tokuon-ji Temple. (I slept most of the way!) The Golden Pavilion is said to contain relics of Buddha and is only part of the larger temple. It is quite beautiful as it is situated out on a pond. We were there at the right time, as the sunlight was hitting the Pavilion at the right angle and it was very shiny and pretty!

This area was PACKED with people, so it was not as enjoyable as it could’ve been. I can be patient in these circumstances, but I do not have patience for rudeness. I was quickly transported back to Europe last year when I was trying to be polite, letting people get their shots, assuming that I would get the spot after and I didn’t want to compromise their photo. Then someone else comes elbowing me out and getting in the person’s way anyway. Like the pavilion was going somewhere and they had to get their shot RIGHT. NOW. So annoying and downright rude.

We then took the bus back to Kyoto Station and I was starving, as it was almost 5pm. We hadn’t decided what to do for dinner yet, so I stuffed Pringles and Starbust minis in my face as we rested a bit. I had suggested some type of Hibachi as a possibility, but couldn’t find one. So Loren found something else that seemed similar, in that it had a grill at each table and was nearby. It was no bueno. I found the English menu before we went in and they had nothing I would eat. Weird food, vegetables, tofu, or pork. Not gonna do it for me. Loren had found an English pub nearby and we saw it as we were looking for the grill place, so we went there. I had fish and chips!

I am getting increasingly frustrated with the food here. Everyone tells me all these things to eat: ramen, hot and cold noodles, sushi rolls, but we can’t find them. Any of them! We look at menus and it’s all crazy food. I’m very thankful that Loren doesn’t really like seafood and isn’t wed to the idea of eating crazy food here, but I also am trying to branch out. But it’s not easy. Looking up restaurants online isn’t very helpful, as it’s not in English. So this is not very easy for me. I knew this was going to be about as adventurous as I’ve been, culinarily speaking, but I knew I was going to try new foods. Now it’s basically a matter of finding them.

Hopefully tomorrow fares better!

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It’s like Deja Vu All Over Again September 29, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 7:49 am

We were on the move today, which meant trains. I spent the better part of three months on trains last year and this felt very comfortable to me. We barely missed the 10:03 train to Kyoto, but that meant that I could go get us some Starbucks as we waited for the 10:33. It still felt almost second-nature again, with Loren asking questions about the train/platform, etc. and me being able to answer them and just feeling like I knew how to do this.  Haven’t generally felt like that in Japan.  But that’s because I had done this before. Many times!

Of course this is Japan, so there are differences. First, they wait in very orderly lines to board the train. At first I couldn’t figure out why we were waiting to board. It was right there. In Europe when the train arrived and the people disembarked, it was a free-for-all. Here, people stood in line at the cars they wanted to ride on. And then I noticed that there were designated line spaces painted on the ground. I like that about Japan! As we stood in line waiting, I noticed that we were waiting because there were cleaners going through each car. That would never happen in Europe! No wonder Japan is so clean!

The ride was nice. I can’t help but say how much I love modern technology. I was halfway around the world, on a train in rural Japan, but able to listen to the Cardinal game! What a win! Magic number is two…hopefully tomorrow (well, today, depending on where you are!)

We got to Kyoto and decided to take a cab to our hotel. We knew it was near the train station, but it appeared to be a couple blocks away on the map and you never know what side you exited, etc. etc. etc. We got into a cab and showed him the address. He stopped and said the name of our hotel several times and I kept repeating it, like yes, that’s the one. He then said other things in Japanese that I took to mean the hotel was very close and didn’t want to drive us. He was also pointing. But we persisted, so he exited the parking lot and went around the block across the street. That was our hotel. WHOOPS. It did not look to be just across the street on the map! I’m sure he thought to himself, lazy Americans! But we just didn’t know!

We couldn’t check into the hotel (even though it was only 30 minutes early), so we left our bags and headed to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. These are the Torii Gates (my gates!). The Torii gates lead a path up Mount Inari to the Inner Shrine. Along the way are smaller shrines. This was supposed to be 4km. I didn’t know why people were saying it took several hours. Oh, perhaps because it’s straight up the side of a freaking mountain. I don’t think I’ve climbed so many stairs before in my life. It was part paved path and mostly stairs. So tiring. There are something like 10,000 Torii, many donated by Japanese businesses, but the shrine is primarily a shrine to the god of rice.

It was a great time and I’m glad we went, but it was super tiring and my feet were feeling it at the end. There was also quite a bit of natural beauty as we went. A lake, so many trees, and some really pretty overlooks. We stopped to take photos and the higher we went the less populated it was. We made it to the top and even the trek down was difficult at times. I didn’t think my feet would hurt from walking DOWN steps.   I really wish my Jawbone hadn’t broken the first day here, so I could see how many steps I got in. I probably would’ve broken the pedometer! Speaking of pedomaters, there was an old Japanese man who was walking and clicking away at a pedometer. It was cute!

After the trek up the mountain, we came back to Kyoto Station. We were going to go to Gion for dinner, but we were getting chilly (a new feeling on this trip!) and so we wanted to change clothes first. But then we were both super hungry (we had each only had a baked good with our Chai all day and it was not 6pm), so we ate at McDonald’s at the station. It was pretty good, but while we were eating I found a massive bug in my shirt. I was so freaked out trying to get it out of my shirt (near my armpit) that I damn near took my shirt off right there in McDonald’s! I have a picture of it. It’s gross. And large. Ugh.

After dinner we checked in to the hotel and rested for a bit. By then we had given up on the idea of going out in Gion, so we went next door to the mall instead. I took a lot of good pictures of things at these stores. They aren’t your average American stores, that’s for sure! Then we got some drinks and snacks and are just going to relax! Tomorrow will likely be a day of a lot of walking as well, so we need to rest up!

 

I’m Kind of a Big Deal! September 28, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 8:17 am

Today felt like I was in Asia. Sure, we’ve had bits and pieces, but today really felt like Asia. We started off by going to the Tsukiji Fish Market, which is one of the most famous sights in Tokyo. If you want to get up at the crack (like seriously 3am), you can get in line to watch the fish auction that starts at 5:30. They auction off large tunas that sometimes go for as much as $10,000. We, or perhaps I should say I, opted not to do that. But we DID set alarms today! As we made our way down there, we encountered the outer markets, which sell all kinds of things, but mostly fish/seafood. We kept seeing this one yellow thing that was on a stick that everyone seemed to be loving. We had no idea what it was, but found a stall that had samples. Loren made me go first and it was like a cold, slimy egg. No bueno. I did not like it. Not at all.

We then made our way into the fish market. It pretty much had all the fish and creatures from the sea that you can imagine…and some that you can’t. Lots of blood and the floor was soaking wet. And it smelled. But it was definitely an experience! I got to see lots of interesting looking fish! We then wandered around the outer markets and we got ice cream cones. I had a mango one. It was really good! That was breakfast (ok, with some peanut butter I had before leaving the hotel room).

From there, we went to the Senso-ji Temple. It’s a Buddhist Temple and one of the most popular and oldest in all of Japan. The temple also has a large market and we were able to get some souvenirs there. The first shot glasses I’ve seen so far! Then we approached the temple and like yesterday where we had to wash our hands (which was a Shinto Temple/Shrine), we had to wave burning incense over us before proceeding. The temple was very beautiful, but unfortunately you can’t take photos of it. There were people inside praying, though, which I thought was interesting. The gates to this temple were very beautiful and I got some good photos there. We then explored the grounds and went into a smaller temple area, another off-shoot market, and we saw the 5-story pagoda. The pagoda was closed, though, so we couldn’t go in (not sure if it’s ever open). This was just a very cool area and the architecture was quite stunning.

We then took a separate trainline to the Tokyo Sky Tree. This is a tower that is 634 (2080 feet) tall. It offers a 360-degree view at the top. It was a great view, but it was hazy in the distance, so we couldn’t see Mount Fuji (or the other mountain that is out there, forgot the name). It was an interesting process to purchase tickets. When we got to what appeared to be the main ticket counter, the sign said foreign visitors were to go somewhere else to get tickets. So we did. It was not cheap and we’re pretty sure that they charged us more, but after buying the ticket we were led to the front of the line (the wait was over an hour for them at that point) and went straight to the elevator. So even if they charged us more, we got a benefit for it. The stupid thing is that the fare only takes you to the 350th floor and if you want to go further, you have to pay extra. We decided not to do that.

During this time, my friend Helkei was making her way to Tokyo to hang out with us. So we left the Sky Tree and needed lunch, as it was after 2pm. Loren was craving KFC, so that’s what we did.   I will not get used to the fact that people can smoke indoors here. We walked in to the restaurant and immediately smelled smoke. But I got a chicken sandwich, cole slaw, and a ginger ale. (Not only did they not have Diet Coke, they had PEPSI).

Helkei met us there and then took us to “kitchentown”. This area is the kitchen utensil/gadget area. Everything you could ever want to cook can be found on this street. There is even a shop where you can buy plastic food. It’s for the restaurants to buy and display so that non-Japanese speakers will know what they are eating! As we were walking around, we came to a shop that Helkei went into to look for a pan. We saw a film crew inside the store and Loren and I waited outside. The film crew was exiting the store and the guy with the boom mic walked straight up to me and put the mic in my face. All of a sudden, I was being interviewed. They asked where I was from, what I thought of the area, why I came to Japan, and what I had bought (I had a little bag with me). The lead guy (who apparently looks like the prime minister) was the translator. We think they were interested in what I bought, thinking it was from the neighborhood. But it was from the Shrine. They were very nice and as I walked away, someone ran to stop me and give me a gift. A pen with the news station’s abbreviation on it! NHK! So yeah, like I said, I’m kind of a big deal. Gonna be on TV!

We then wanted to relax, so we went to Ueno park, but after we got off the metro we saw a bakery. We went in and ended up buying two cubes, similar to what Loren had for breakfast yesterday. We took them and went to the pond area of the park. That’s when I saw them: swan boats. I saw the swan boats on the Amazing Race! We didn’t ride them, but I liked watching them anyway! It was turning into a beautiful night (from the hot and grossly sticky day…we actually misted ourselves at the Sky Tree because it was so icky out) and we sat by the water and chatted.

Eventually we went in search of sake and found some flea market area. It was very interesting. We went to some stand-up bar (I don’t remember the name for it) and got some sake. Helkei ordered us hot sake. I couldn’t drink it. But I tried. I took three drinks. It was so incredibly strong. And I don’t think I liked it hot. Heleki drank mine, too, so by the time we were done there, she needed food! She was a little tipsy. We went to a place that had tempura for dinner. Helkei and I each got a tempura bowl and Loren just got vegetable tempura.

First, it came with some weird pickles as a palate cleanser. Gross. Then I realized that there weren’t just shrimp in my bowl. I gave Helkei the pepper, the eggplant, and something else I can’t remember now. The shrimp was fine. I think it would’ve been better with less of the “tempura”. I don’t need that much fried batter. I even ate some rice! But after two shrimp and about a quarter to a third of a cup of rice I was stuffed. I definitely ate more today than I have in days, so I don’t think my stomach was used to it! Even though I could eat the tempura, I wouldn’t choose to have it. Like go out of my way. We’ll see what I come across in the future, but after day 3, the food isn’t receiving high marks from me!

Tonight is another early night for us. Loren and I were ready to go to sleep at 8pm. But we had to come back and pack up our stuff, as we head out to Kyoto in the morning. Looking forward to seeing a new part of the country!

 

Guys, I ate sushi! September 27, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 8:23 am

And did not like it. But I’ll get to that in a bit. First, I need to learn to set an alarm. Went to bed about 2:30am and was woken to Loren opening the curtains in our room because there was some weird announcement being made outside. It was loud and sounded like it was through some loudspeaker or something. I was annoyed that she was opening the curtains, until I checked my phone and saw that it was 12:53pm. WHAT? I apologized profusely and told her that she should’ve woken me up. But I definitely needed the sleep. This jet lag is no joke. Slept nearly 11 hours Friday night, 2 hour nap on Saturday, and then about 10.5 hours Saturday night. Also, it’s about 10pm and I could definitely go to bed now. But I felt much better today than I did yesterday, so maybe it was good to get that extra long sleep out of the way!

After I got ready we set out in search of a nearby bakery for “breakfast”. I had a small pumpkin scone (while good, tasted nothing like pumpkin) and a cinnamon Danish (really just a cinnamon roll). I have not been able to find Diet Coke in this Godforsaken country, but I found it on the menu at the bakery. Score! Wait. They brought me a Coke Zero. Liz knows what happens when they try to give me a Coke Zero instead of a Diet Coke. But I have realized that I don’t think they know what Diet Coke is here and I need caffeine, so I had to drink it. Ah well.

We then made our way to Harajuku, but went to the Meiji Shrine before shopping. It was supposed to rain pretty much all day, so I took my sunglasses out of my purse and put my travel umbrella in and carried my windbreaker/rain coat. As we were eating at the bakery the sun came out. It didn’t go away the rest of the day. I’m not complaining because I was glad it didn’t rain, but it was not what we prepared for! It was hot and sticky again, especially as we got onto the grounds of the shrine. It’s a beautiful park/forest (almost) and had lots of enormous trees. But that made it even more humid.

Once we got up to the Main Shrine, you first rinse your hands and mouth (we only did hands, I didn’t know why people appeared to be drinking the water, whoops) from the basin called Temizusha (the font for ablutions). It is a wooden basin and there are wooden dippers that you get water and pour over your hands and rub together. Then you can enter the Main Shrine. We saw a wedding processional, so that was cool. (We did not get invited to this wedding reception, unfortunately. Apparently they’re not as hospitable as the Irish!) Shortly after the first wedding processional we saw another one! Popular day to get married, I guess.

Up at what appeared to be the entrance to the Shrine were offering boxes. You show your respect by throwing coins into it and then bow twice, clap twice, and bow once. It seems weird engaging in some of the rituals here because it’s not my religion and I don’t want to do something that would be contradictory to Christianity, but it was my opinion that it was merely respectful. I enjoy learning about the culture, which includes religion, but it doesn’t mean I’m participating in it.

We then went into the side plaza of the shrine and there were boxes with sticks in them that you shook and then tipped over. You would get a stick and the stick had a number on it. For 100 yen you could then tell the worker what your number was and get a poem from the Emperor Meiji, he was quite the poet. Mine said: “As clear and refreshing as the rising sun – thus might it always be with the human heart!” Then this was below it: “Let your heart be as bright and clear as the rising sun. Happy indeed is he who brings to all the acts of his daily life the peaceful freshness of the sunrise.”

We then continued to walk through the park land to the Treasure Building, but it was closed by the time we arrived. We each got something to drink from the ubiquitous vending machine. I got a Coke Zero and Loren got a banana milk thing that tasted like a pudding pop. We sat and enjoyed the park area (Yoyogi Park).

Then we proceeded to Harajuku, but unfortunately, we did not see Gwen Stefani. Harajuku had a ton of high-end shopping, but we went down a side street and found some interesting stores and then found an alley that was labeled “Harajuku Street” and so we went down that. It also had a lot of weirder stores, but nothing as “out there” as I had expected for Harajuku. On the main drag with the fancy stores, there wasn’t a Tiffany. I was bummed, but we googled it and there is one in Shinjuku, which is the neighborhood we’ll be staying in before we leave Japan, so I’ll look then! We walked around the whole area for some time before deciding to return to the hotel.

We took a short rest to just get off of our feet a bit before venturing out. We decided to hit up the hotel restaurant because I had seen the menu and it looked like something I could handle. I had plum wine, which was tasty and Loren had green tea plum wine, also tasty. I ordered chicken skewers and a tuna sushi. The chicken was going to take too long to cook, so I ordered the mozzarella and tomato skewer. That was so good, but it’s basically a mozzarella stick with a cherry tomato in it, so what’s not to love? There were two of those (pretty small) and then the single tuna sushi. Loren said it appeared to be more like sashimi, because it wasn’t a roll. I almost ordered the crab and I think I should’ve. Once I got the handle on the chopsticks (which is to say that I could grasp something, very inartfully), I ate a piece of the ginger. Um, gross. I said it tasted like it should be in bath salts or something. Loren put it better: it’s very perfume-y. I did not like it.

Then went the sushi. She told me that I had to eat the whole thing in one bite. It was huge. It felt wrong stuffing that whole thing into my mouth. I skipped the soy sauce because I don’t like it. But I did not like the sushi, which means it was something in the tuna. I can’t describe it, but it was not good. And I was chewing for three years. Even though I did not like that, I will try other kinds and rolls. But I am not off to a good start!

We then went to a Belgian beer restaurant and I had an apple beer. At first it tasted very beer-y, but eventually the apple won over. I also ordered “fried potatoes” aka French fries. They weren’t very food, but it was something. I feel like my appetite is starting to come back, but I’m still not having my stomach growl or anything, so we’ll see how the food thing goes as time goes on!

Well, I need to go to bed so I don’t sleep the day away tomorrow. No, I’m definitely setting an alarm!

 

First Day in Tokyo September 26, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 12:20 pm

So before coming here I heard horror stories about the jet lag. That you wake up at 3am and cant sleep more. IF you know me, you know that was not likely the case. I went to bed at 10pm and woke up at 8:45am. Yowzers. We got ready and went in search of Starbucks. We quickly realized that Tokyo is not easy to navigate, even with a pocket wifi giving us maps on our phones.   We could not tell directions or tell if we were going the right way. So frustrating.

Eventually we located the Starbucks and all was well. We ended up sitting next to an American couple and we chatted with them for a bit. They had some good tips and suggestions, as they were leaving today, so they had been here. We had planned to do several other things today, thinking that the baseball game was tonight, but thankfully I checked the email and the game was at 2pm. So instead of trying to navigate to the fish market, we decided to get ready for the game and go to the Tokyo Dome early. Loren had seen a cool park near it, so we decided to kill time that way.

The park is called Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens and we later learned that it was ranked #3 on the sights to see in Tokyo. It was a beautiful garden, you could hardly tell that you were right near roads and an urban environment—except for the loud music coming from the Dome. We walked around pretty much the whole garden and saw enormous fish (unsure what kind), cute turtles, a heron or crane, and lots of flora and fauna.

Then we made our way back to the Dome and had to walk around almost the entire thing to get to the kiosk to print our tickets. There were SO many people, it was crazy. Once inside we were struck by the enormity of the place. It just seemed so much larger than the Metrodome. And it was LOUD. The fans did not stop chanting/singing the entire time. Literally, the entire time. I noticed during one half-inning break that there was silence.

It was interesting to watch how they play the game and how they cheer. The fans for the away team appeared to be relegated to a specific section, which was interesting. They cheered the entire time their team was up!   There was one instance that has me befuddled. Top of the 1st, runner on first, batter hits a grounder foul. They ended up giving the batter first base and gave the home team an Error. The ump actually got on the microphone and made an announcement, but, unfortunately, I don’t speak Japanese. I have no idea why he was awarded first base!

We left after the bottom of the 7th because I was exhausted and it had been three hours—it was a slow moving game. There was an American couple sitting next to us (wearing their SF Giants gear…boo) and they left at the same time saying the jet lag was hitting them, too. We came back to the hotel and slept from 6-8. I felt like I could keep sleeping, but we got up and got ready to go out.

We went to Shibuya Crossing, the busiest intersection in the world. When the signals turn for pedestrians, it’s essentially a free-for-all. There are crosswalks, but everyone walks all over. It also has a Times Square kind of vibe. We took lots of pictures here (unfortunately, I hated most of mine, so I was less enthusiastic) and took in the atmosphere. Then we met my friend Helkei who lives here and went to a Tower hotel for a drink at their rooftop bar. Helkei had to leave almost right away because she learned that the last train home was soon. She missed it. Whoops. So she ended up getting to spend more time with us and spend the night!

So we went back to our neighborhood (Ginza) and tried to find an open bar/restaurant, but most things close quite early here. We met a Japanese man on the street, who walked us several blocks to a place that was open. He then went back the way we came to where he was going originally. Wow, what a nice guy! He wasn’t even going that direction, but he walked us there anyway!

I haven’t been very hungry, so I still haven’t had Japanese food yet. At Starbucks I had a scone with my Chai and I had had a tablespoon of peanut butter before we left in the morning. I had some almonds at 6pm before my nap and a little more peanut butter before we went out tonight. And I’m just not hungry. We’ll see how tomorrow goes! It’s supposed to be rainy for much of tomorrow. Not looking forward to that, but oh well. It’s super humid here, so it was really sticky today. Well, it’s almost 2:30am, so it’s time for bed!

 

I’m in Asia! September 25, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 7:49 am

What a long day. I got up at 6am on Thursday to get ready to head to the airport. I have felt so scattered regarding this trip that inevitably, I forgot a couple of things. But nothing major, so that’s good. When my dad dropped me off at the airport I had a very uneasy feeling. I don’t know why and I couldn’t pinpoint the feeling, except unease. I told Liz on the phone at the airport that maybe our plane was going to crash. She didn’t appreciate that. And it didn’t. Thank goodness!

The layover in Chicago was interesting because the flower on my ballet flat came off, so I bought super glue at O’Hare and as I opened the tube, it squirted all over my hands. No bueno. After gluing the flower, we hit up a nail salon and they gave me acetone to get it off (for $2…honestly, they could’ve just done me a solid, but whatever). Then we went to Chili’s for a salad and a margarita.

When we boarded the plane for Tokyo we immediately realized that the configuration was not the same as when we booked our tickets. We were supposed to have two seats to ourselves (2-5-2 configuration). But this plane was 3-3-3. It was clearly a smaller plane (fewer rows), but that meant we had another person in our row. That hampered the comfort of the flight, more for Loren than me because I had the window.

I watched a couple movies, finished a book, and slept. Though I did not sleep as much as I thought/wanted. I put my headphones on and apparently itunes wanted me to listen to Joshua Radin for the first time in nearly a year (since my last breakup). Honestly, out of like 2000+ songs in my itunes, I heard at least 12 Joshua Radin songs. This did nothing for my spirits. But I didn’t skip them because I decided I was going to have to listen to them eventually.

We got to Narita and through immigration and baggage claim quickly. We had some difficulty locating the place where we picked up the pocket wifi and eventually abandoned that and went to get our rail passes. The gentleman helping us with our rail pass was very helpful, printing off directions to our hotel from the train stops. Very accommodating. Then we asked at information again about the wifi place and got better directions and located it right away.

The train took about an hour to get to Tokyo Station and I slept for a good part of that. It’s like Europe all over again…put me in a motor vehicle and I am out. We decided not to take either of the transfer options at Tokyo Station and got a cab instead. I knew the hotel wasn’t far, but the cab driver had some difficulty determining what hotel we were at. But he got it soon enough. Also, it was dark and raining, so we preferred to get dropped at the door, especially considering our (my?) level of exhaustion.

After resting at the hotel for a minute, we took a walk around the block. Loren wanted to go get a drink or something, but I wanted a shower and my bed. So I said I would go outside with her for a short jaunt and that was all. I got that hot shower and my pj’s and am ready to crash. We got to the hotel 24 hours after I woke up “today.” So I don’t think jet lag is going to prevent me from sleeping tonight (it is currently 9:45pm Friday), but I don’t want to jinx it!

We start actually seeing Tokyo tomorrow, but I am officially on my fourth continent!