After enjoying the historical and beautiful city of Kyoto, Japan, Angela and I were all set to travel into the mountains. We were traveling to the mountains west of Tokyo, often referred to as the ‘Japanese Alps‘. Up to this point, I had navigated our train travels throughout Japan with great success using an extremely convenient app called Hyperdia (a must-have for Japanese rail travelers). I became a little complacent with my skills, assuming that I was just awesome at this and little to no effort was required. We were traveling to Nozawa Onsen, and so I punched in the name of the town into Hyperdia, and was rewarded with the train station called Nozawa appearing as a valid location. I thought “must be close enough, same name!”. And so we happily boarded the JR Shinkansen and departed Kyoto for Nozawa. We found it odd that our train ride took us all of the way to the western coast, when Nozawa Onsen is in the mountains, but we chalked this up to being the only route available, but once we started going far to the north of where we should have been, Angela started to get worried. I was filled with faith in the system, and believed that we would soon turn south and somehow arrive conveniently at the door of our guest house. It wasn’t until I had the idea that maybe there was a Nozawa train station that was actually nowhere near Nozawa Onsen that I became worried enough to look it up on Googlemaps, and finally realized that there was indeed a Nozawa station far to the north of where we wanted to be. It was a terrible feeling as travel-panic washed over me, and I had no idea what to do. We decided that we had better jump off sooner than later, as the further north we went, the further away from our destination we would be. We ended up at a small, rural town that the train happened to stop at, and tried to ask the ticket man how we could book tickets to the right place. With some fancy internet skills, we found that we were not so far away, but had maybe overshot our destination by three hours or so. The extremely efficient and convenient system of booking tickets with my JR rail pass soon melted away as it was clear that the Japanese man in the ticket booth had never seen a JR pass before, and was frantically looking through his manual. He also spoke zero English, which was solely our problem because we did not speak any Japanese. Thanks to Angela’s researching skills, we jumped on a train without a ticket (totally possible with the JR pass) and after a stressful, but incident-free three hour train ride and a fifteen minute cab ride, we arrived in Nozawa Onsen. I was sweating a lot.
After enjoying the vibrant, electronic and wild Tokyo vibe, we took our first Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) to Nara, via Kyoto. The Japanese bullet trains are one of the most comfortable methods of travel that I can imagine. The Japan Rail employees were all extremely helpful, even with limited English. We stocked up on Lawson sandwiches (a true Japanese delight, purchased from the equivalent of a gas station), and enjoyed the scenic ride through the Japan countryside.
We arrive in Nara and found our quaint hotel called Guesthouse Iki. This was a very small guesthouse ran entirely by the owner. We slept on the floor, on tatami mats, but did have our own bathroom. A private bathroom was a luxury that we would not have for much of our trip, but more on that later. Using the ever helpful TripAdvisor, Angela located a nearby sake brewery once we had settled into our guesthouse. We wandered through the rustic lanes of Nara to find the Harushika sake brewery. For 500 yen, which is about $5 USD, we were given six shots of sake and a souvenir sake glass. I thought this was a steal, and the sake was very good. We had a dry sake, strawberry sake (little weird), unfiltered sake, a cloudy and fizzy sake, and lastly sparkling sake. We had yet to find dinner, and Angela is not much of a sake fan, so I ended up with far more than 6 helpings and was feeling desperately ready for some food.
The first thing that we did upon finishing our last day of school before our Christmas vacation was to throw our Christmas tree out onto the curb. It was a strange thing to do, especially since it was December 18th. We were about to leave on a three week trip to Japan, and so we bought our tree three weeks earlier than most so that we could enjoy it as long as possible. After that, and a good night’s rest, we took off for our three week trip to Japan.
At the end of June, Jason and I had the pleasure of hosting my brother Jon and sister in-law Rachel in Shanghai. After spending a week in Beijing, Jon and Rachel flew in to Shanghai the day after our school let out. Before heading to Chengdu we fit as much in as we could as the weather was pleasant and the air quality was good.
On the day that they arrived, we took Jon and Rachel to our go-to tailor Tony and Helen at the local fake market that we frequent as they were interested in making some cheap tailored clothes. On our way home, we stopped for lunch at a delicious Muslim pulled noodles restaurant near our metro stop (S. Shaanxi) on line 10. For less than 40RMB we ate some tasty hand pulled noodles.
We have been in Chiang Mai since December 21 and have one full day left until heading south to the beach. I will keep this brief as I know Jason will blog in more detail later! Sunday and Monday were spent exploring the city, markets, and temples! We threw in a few massages and even splurged for a fish pedicure! On Tuesday we took a cooking class which took us out of the city! Christmas Eve was spent listening to live music and chatting with a 64 year old Brit spending his holiday in the city! Today (Christmas) we went on a horrendous hike and mountain bike trip in Chiang Mai’s Doi Suthrep national park! We’ve had a fun and relaxing time so far and head to Bangkok on Friday! Wishing Everyone a safe and Merry Christmas!