Travel: Japan’s Arashiyama, Pt. 1

August 17, 2014

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Long time, no see! Summer has been hectic around these parts, between work, freelance and preparing for our next adventure. But I’m back for one (or maybe two!) more posts before we head to Europe. So here we are, back to Japan! Using Kyoto as a home base, we traveled to nearby cities for day trips. Arashiyama is on the western suburbs of Kyoto, and once on the JR Sagano Line, it takes about 20 minutes to get there. The small city is famous for its bamboo forest, several large temples and MACAQUE MONKEYS (!!). The town has so much charm and we enjoyed walking from the train station to the main part of town, about 10 minutes. The area is perfect for riding bikes, sadly most shops were closed while we were there.

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That lady on the bike was my favorite.

That lady on the bike was my favorite.

Our first stop, of course, was the Iwatayama Monkey Park. This post is mostly about those furry little dudes so you’ve been warned! They were number one on my list of things to see.

After being traumatized by the Inari Shrine climb (we had no idea we were basically hiking up a mountain!), we saw the map of the Monkey Park and freaked out. But it ended up being an easy climb.  It was particularly warm day, but at least it was overcast. Over 170 monkeys live in this park. We had a good chuckle when we realized that they put the humans in a cage in order to feed the monkeys. As it should be, probably. There’s a small fee for the park that you pay at the entrance.

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As we approached the summit, these little dudes were watching us from nearby branches. They roam wild, but are accustomed to humans and interacting with them. They are friendly, but many of the signs warned against looking at them directly in the eye.

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We went inside the summit to feed the monkeys. It only costs about 100 yen for a bag of food. We bought three and the monkeys were so glad. They were so funny and curious. Tiny monkey spam! monkey3

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This tiny guy was such a troublemaker. He was so adorable!

bwmonkey2 The view from the mountain is breathtaking! I could not stop laughing at how silly these monkeys were. They really did not care that we were there.

collage2 On our way down the mountain, we found this abandoned playground. Of course we had to get on this awesome slide!

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I’m glad we made the monkey park our first stop that day. We were able to explore and watch them do silly things without rushing. Part 2 of our Arashiyama day coming up!

These pictures were taken on October 2013.

 

 

Travel: Why I Travel

July 30, 2014

I read this piece at the DearBearWolf launch party at Mammal Gallery on May 13, 2014. If you haven’t yet, check out ATL-based DearBearWolf here.

In Takayama, Japan, filling up my travel journal with temple stamps.

In Takayama, Japan, filling up my travel journal with temple stamps.

We woke up at 3 a.m., jet-lagged from a way too long flight across the ocean. I almost threw my phone across our tiny hotel room as I barely opened my eyes. But I manage to convince myself that waking up was worth it as he gets up and gets ready. I manage to search the internet for a phrase translation and write it on the back of a crumbled food receipt from the night before. The cold air hits my face as we stumble outside to catch a cab and it hurts more than it should have. Is there a word in another language that explains the state of being awake prior to having a caffeinated beverage? As I take my first bite of sushi that hasn’t been outside of the ocean but mere hours, I thought about how glad I was that I woke up today.

We found our way to the water, next to a marsh. We sat on the ground for what seemed like an eternity. We were cold, but we kept moving to make sure we stayed warm. He ventured down the hill to make sure we haven’t missed them, due to the light pollution. In a blink of an eye, they appeared. The northern lights were dancing in the sky for us. A tear traveled down my cheek as we watched them dance.

After walking for eight hours around a historic city with a terrible past, we approached the train station to continue our journey. My stomach grumbled as we took our belongings out of the locker and I asked if we should eat. The yellow light of the train station illuminated the food stalls on the sides of the long, wide hallway. We walked under an escalator and saw an elderly Japanese man standing outside his small restaurant with no sign or name. We walked in and he showed us what he was offering in his own language. After a few hand gestures, we sat down across a warm bowl of soup. The homemade noodles and broth were rich with flavors my taste buds have never experienced. We ate until we saw the bottom of the bowl. To this day, it is the best bowl of ramen I’ve ever had.

We arrived to this beach-side hostel after eight hours of traveling in a very crowded bus in the middle of the night. We went to sleep right away. I woke up, no longer car sick, as a soft mist landed on my face. It was around 5 a.m. and you could see the first rays of the sun out of the horizon. I quickly put on my shoes and ran two miles to the shore. I hate running, but in that moment, all that mattered was for my eyes to meet those sun rays. I sat on the moist sand and ran my fingers through it. I watched the sunrise by the still, quiet ocean and after, jumped into the cold water with clothes and all. I felt alive and welcomed by this town in the middle of our continent.

I read in the New York Times last week that people are happier during the planning and anticipation stage of their trip than when they are actually at the destination. I call bullshit. At least for me.

Happiness for me is eating my way through a new city.  Happiness is having an escape from your daily reality, while boarding a machine that defies physics every day. Planes are pretty weird that way.

Happiness is escaping our routines, contemplating things we couldn’t before and consider obscure possibilities – as we walk through crowded streets and listen to languages different from our own. I travel because I need to. Just like being a writer and needing to get these words out on a daily basis. I travel because your mind transforms when you are away from home – it’s bottled up creativity, knowledge and experiences.

Travel is a passion, an obsession. It’s a priority. For me. The excitement of feeling like an explorer, being spontaneous, discovering history and the connection of it all — it makes you more human. Robert Louis Stevenson said “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.  I travel for travel’s sake.  The great affair is to move.”

That’s why I travel.

Travel: An Oahu Road Trip

June 25, 2014

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The day after we went scuba diving we rented a car to explore the island. Oahu is the third largest island of all of the Hawaiian Islands. However, you can drive around the island, with stops included, in about 8 hours. The night before we downloaded the Gypsy Guide for Oahu – a really awesome self-drive tour iPhone/Android app that provides you with cool historic bits as you drive around the island. It tells you where to stop and what’s next (including driving directions) since it’s based on your global positioning. You can buy it at the App Store, plug it into your auxiliary port (or in our case, turn up the volume really high) and start driving! We rented a cute Fiat from Enterprise for the day.

We stayed right next to Diamond Head so we started our driving tour there. We were going to stop at Pearl Harbor, but that particular day was sold out. If you plan to visit the Memorial, get tickets well in advance! They sell out fast and there’s no guarantee you’ll get a free one on site. You can get them here. So instead we got on the highway and headed to the Dole Plantation!

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We ate Dole Whip and walked around the gift shop. We didn’t take the Plantation tour, we heard it was overrated. If you went, what did you think?

Alex had some fun inside of this pineapple

Alex had some fun inside of this pineapple

We hopped on the car and drove past so many fields. Hawaii is so beautiful. The weather was breezy and kinda warm – enough to keep the windows down. We headed up to the North Shore. We stopped at Matsumoto for their famous shaved ice. We got the guava-flavored shaved ice. It was delicious and the perfect (first) snack for the drive.

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shavedice

After passing the surf shops, we arrived at one of the many beaches, parked and walked over to the sand. We walked over rocks and around the shore. The cloudy day was definitely feeding my soul. It was the perfect temperature.

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As we headed out of the area, I spied a shrimp truck in a gas station and no, it wasn’t the famous Giovanni’s. It was a giant blue truck that would quickly change our life. [I mean, I just told Alex if he remembers it and he closed his eyes and sighed. It's that good!] We stopped at the Blue Water Shrimp Truck and got a garlic shrimp plate to share. The plate was huge — packed with rice, pineapple and delicious shrimps with an amazing sauce on top. If you’re ever in the area, make sure to stop by. You won’t regret it! We pondered on getting more, but we knew we had more shrimp trucks after this.

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Our next stop was Turtle Beach, where sea turtles hang out by the shore and you can see them up close. There’s a volunteer group that keeps an eye on tourists and makes sure that no one disturbs them, but you can still get really close. To get there, you park on the side of the road and cross the street to the beach. It’s really easy to get to and the app tells you when you get there as there’s no sign.

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Hidden entrance to Turtle Beach

Beautiful sea turtles

Beautiful sea turtles

We stopped at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck for another snack and it was a bit underwhelming. The shrimp were chewy, small and didn’t have much flavor. It was much more expensive for way less food. I know this is a popular stop but I personally did not think it lived up to the hype.

Giovanni's + their shrimp scampi

Giovanni’s + their shrimp scampi

My favorite stop of the tour was Lai’e Point. We parked our cars and saw the large islet in the distance with a giant hole in it. The waves in this area are large and powerful. The fog made everything better. I’m a huge fan of cloudy, rainy days so I’m glad it turned out that way.

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We skipped the Polynesian Cultural Center and stopped at the Chinaman’s Hat. Since it was raining at this point, none of the pictures came out. Our next and last stop was the Byodo-In Temple. It was pouring by the time we got there. Even then, I’m glad we stopped. The temple was built in 1968 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. It made us nostalgic for our Japan trip.

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The fog was my favorite.

We got back around 5 p.m. and returned our car to Enterprise. (Pro tip: Just rent your car for one day at a time since parking fees in Hawaii are crazy high! We used Kayak to rent ours for about $35/day) That night we stopped for some ramen at Marakame Udon. It was a delicious (and cheap) treat! I strongly recommend Gypsy Guide for your Oahu road trip since you can stop whenever and enjoy the scenery. It was nice to see the island without the pressure of a group tour.

Have ever done a road trip in Hawaii or elsewhere in the world? 

Read more about our scuba diving experience in Oahu here and how we found cheap tickets to Hawaii here

These pictures were taken on February 2014. You can download Gypsy Guide here.

#FlashbackFriday – 2010 Costa Rica Trip

June 13, 2014

Back in 2010, my partner-in-crime Emily and I grabbed our backpacks and bought tickets to Costa Rica over New Year’s. It was an amazing almost two weeks of solid backpacking, getting to know the country a little better and delicious food. I still can’t believe this was four years ago! We stayed at the Wide Mouth Frog hostel and they were really great. We went zip-lining during our time in Quepos as you should (and actually signed up through the hostel office). Here’s a little flashback of our time there.

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Have you ever gone zip-lining? Did you like it?

Travel: NYC, Part 1 – Mood Fabrics

June 9, 2014

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At the end of April, I booked a random trip to NYC with my friend Diana. Well, not that random — she wanted to go fabric shopping and what better place than New York City. She opened an Etsy shop after we took some sewing classes together and needed more fabric for her scarves.

It rained most of the time we were there but on Friday, we hit the ground running and went over to Mood Fabrics. You may recognize this store from every reality show competition dealing with design, including Project Runway. It’s a really awesome place. It looks small from the outside, but it’s two floors full of rolls and rolls of fabric, ribbon and entire walls of buttons and zippers. Here are few pictures from our fabric adventure.

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Fabric time!

This little guy was hanging out around the store.

This little guy was hanging out around the store.

Emily came with us too.  She's more into tapestry and making pillows.

Emily came with us too. She’s more into tapestry and making pillows.

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The decor by the elevator is so amazing. // Hi!

The decor by the elevator is so amazing. // Hi!

These photos were taken on May 2014.

Travel: Nishiki Market + Cooking class in Kyoto

June 1, 2014

title_kyoto One of our favorite things to do when we are home is to cook. Alex is really into grilling, smoking meats and cooking big meals for our friends. For me, I love baking — as you can see from my blog, I’m kinda obsessed with baking pies. So when we travel, we try to eat everything and learn how things are made so we can try to replicate them at home. In Atlanta, we have this amazing street called Buford Highway, where we can find all kinds of ingredients from all over the world. We are really lucky to have it.

Naturally, when we went to Kyoto we signed up for a cooking class. After much researching, we settled on Taro’s cooking class. He offered to teach us how to cook miso soup from scratch, other side items and best of all, KOBE BEEF. Real Kobe beef is hard to find despite several restaurants saying they offer it. Kobe beef comes from a specific strain of wagyu cattle, raised in the Hyogo Prefecture.  It’s famous for its beautiful marbling (the high quality fat melts at room temperature!) and flavor. The beef goes through several inspections and must meet specific requirements — where they are raised, who are the parents and slaughtered only at specific slaughterhouses. Due to the strict nature of the process, a lot of producers, especially in the U.S., cross a wagyu cow with an angus cow and call it “Kobe style beef.” But it’s not the same! Not at all. Let’s just say that all of those requirements are worth it because that beef was AMAZING.

We signed up for the optional Nishiki Market tour before the cooking class. It was nice to have someone to tell us what everything was! Taro met us there with another couple and he picked up the ingredients for our class as we walked around.

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Nishiki Market in Kyoto is over 400 years old!

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We loved sampling all of the pickles and fish.

An old lady came up to me and offered me this octopus with a quail egg in its head. When in Kyoto, right? It was so good!

An old lady came up to me and offered me this octopus with a quail egg in its head. When in Kyoto, right? It was so good!

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After our walk around the market, around 2 hours, we took the bus to Taro’s house. His wife and the cutest kid I’ve ever seen welcomed us into their house. Seriously though, the little kid was dressed up as Sailor Moon. Be still my heart. Their house is SO beautiful. We really felt like home there.

Our class was small, about 6 couples — all from different parts of the world. We sat around a table as Taro explained to us the menu and the origin of Kobe beef. He even showed us the certificate for the beef we were going to eat that day and checked it online. Then we moved over to his kitchen and he asked for volunteers as we cooked the menu. Except for the Kobe beef — he cooked that himself as that particular piece was over $100!

Ready!

Ready!

Taro shows us the ingredients // cucumber pickling with just salt!

Taro shows us the ingredients // cucumber pickling with just salt!

Taro's daughter was such a little helper

Taro’s daughter was such a little cutie

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I cooked some miso soup that we’ve repeated since we got home // Alex helped cut some veggies + cook tamago — a sweet square egg.

Kobe beef with its certificate.

Kobe beef with its certificate.

The final result!

The final result!

Taro’s class was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. He speaks English really well, his family is so welcoming and his knowledge of the ingredients helped us understand Japanese culture a little more. I would suggest adding the optional Nishiki Market tour, it’s a real treat. Plan to be there a whole afternoon, until about six. You can book your class here, with Kobe beef or vegetarian.

Have you ever taken a cooking class in another country? If so, where?

These photos were taken in October 2013.

Travel: Nashville

May 27, 2014

Wow, this month has flown by! I’ve been out of town every single weekend in May and I’ve had a pile of freelance projects to finish so updating the blog fell by the wayside. Don’t even ask me about the state of my laundry. It may or may not look like THIS. But, let’s catch up, shall we?

Let’s start with this past weekend — Memorial Day! Alex and I grabbed the pups and headed to Nashville for a quick weekend trip. It was Alta’s first road trip and she was a rockstar! She’s growing so fast. We rented an airbnb and it had a pool! It was wonderful. We had an event to attend Saturday so we only explored the city, mostly the 12 South and the Belmont area, on Sunday. Here are a few photos of our weekend.

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We stopped in Chattanooga to let the dogs walk around

We stopped in Chattanooga to let the dogs walk around

Our amazing airbnb!

Our amazing airbnb!

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I baked a pie — Blueberry Buttermilk Pie 18/50

Las Paletas + Imogene and Willie at 12 South

Las Paletas + Imogene and Willie at 12 South

We hung around 12 South on Sunday afternoon + Burgers at Pharmacy

We hung around 12 South on Sunday afternoon + Burgers at Pharmacy

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Bluegrass at the Station Inn in Nashville

Bluegrass at the Station Inn in Nashville

Mandatory stop for local honey + fresh peaches at a roadside market

Mandatory stop for local honey + fresh peaches at a roadside market

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We had a little bit of fun walking around Cabbagetown when we got back to Atlanta

Did you have a good Memorial Day? Where did you go?

Travel: NYC!

May 9, 2014

As I write this, I’m about to board a plane to New York City! It was an impulse buy with one of my friends that quickly turned into a girls’ weekend. I’m so excited. The last time I was in NYC was for the last LCD Soundsystem concert ever (tears!) at Madison Square Garden in 2011. So long ago! So today I’m daydreaming about street food, walking through Central Park and meeting up with some friends I haven’t seen in a while. Plus, I finally get to visit the gals at Four & Twenty Blackbirds in Brooklyn. They are my pie inspiration. Follow me on Instagram for live updates and I’ll be back next week with some photos and stories.

I leave you with five links that caught my eye this week.

We are big fans of Game of Thrones at my house. This made me giggle.

I’ve been following Alexandra Talty’s Forbes column for a while. She gives great advice. This week, she talks about saving serious money for travel. Somewhere else on the web, Megan Van Groll writes about traveling on a budget and find more authentic experiences.

Beautiful photos from Istanbul and Cappadocia over at Twenty-Something Travel. Hot air balloon riding at sunrise just climbed to the top of my bucket list.

I’m counting the days until Iceland, but until then, here’s an interactive panorama tour. So neat!

We all get delayed from time to time. This company will get airlines to pay you for your lost time.

What’s your favorite thing to do in NYC?

Travel: Viking museum in Oslo

May 6, 2014

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After sleeping most of our first day in Oslo, we were looking forward to exploring the city and visiting the Viking museum (Vikingskipshuset). As an avid viking fan (I mean, have you seen his beard!?), Alex was really stoked about it. With our 48-hour Oslo pass, we were able to visit the museum and ride the ferry round-trip for free. I definitely recommend getting one of the passes since it includes many attractions, museums that you actually want to see and even free transportation around the city. They also offer discounts to students and I was lucky to have my old student ID with me.

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Anyways, VIKING SHIPS. It was overcast and cold that day since it was the end of September, but we bundled up and waited for the ferry at the City Hall Pier (Bygdøy). The ride to the museum takes about 15-20 minutes through the Oslo fjord to Dronningen. Make sure to sit near the windows if you can, the views of houses and old castles nearby will take your breath away.

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After you arrive, you walk about 10 minutes up a hill to the museum. The museum is small, but with three giant Viking ships that were discovered, excavated and restored — they even steamed the wood to bend it back into shape — we were more than satisfied. Aside from the ships, they have artifacts that were found at the burial sites, including clothing, sleds and tools used by the Vikings. You learn about their burial rituals and way of living, often so different from the stereotypes we hear about them. I apologize for the grainy pictures. The museum didn’t have the best lighting and the cloudy day didn’t help.

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Even if you are spending one day in Oslo, the museum isn’t far from the centre and the train station. It’s definitely worth stopping by and learning more about how these guys once ruled Scandinavia and beyond.

Learn more about the Viking museum and how to get there here. Pictures taken on September 2012.

Have you been to the Viking museum? What did you think?