One Week in Kyoto, Japan

After a great couple of days in Osaka, Ang and I took another short (15 minute) train ride to get to Kyoto. Kyoto is awesome. There is a great mix of new and classically old in this ancient city. We rented an Air BnB in Kyoto, which is basically somebody’s apartment that you rent out through this website. It was a slightly less expensive option compared to many hotels and even hostels, and it felt a little more like being at home as it was a fully furnished (although absolutely tiny) apartment. I loved it, and the owners were extremely helpful in leaving us all of the information that we would need to enjoy Kyoto.

After getting checked into our apartment, and having a Krispy Kreme doughnut and coffee, we wandered around Kyoto a little bit. We walked to the shopping arcade near the Gion district. There was a never-ending row of shops with a roof protecting it from rain. The first thing we found while wandering around was the ‘Ninja Restaurant‘. A good friend had made several obscure references to the Ninja Restaurant, and so I decided immediately that I had to go as we had stumbled upon it by complete accident. I did not realize that I was in for one of the larger disappointments of our trip. To be fair, I think there is a dinner show that you can go to, and maybe that is where the ninjas are, but our experience was in an interesting and creepy looking basement where I was expecting to be assaulted by fake ninjas a number of times. The wait staff was dressed up like ninjas, but that was the extent of our ninja interactions. I kept waiting for one to jump out and do something ninja-like, but that must only be available if you go to the show, which we did not. Instead we paid $80 for an all-you-can-eat-and-drink hot pot meal. The meal was good, but not $80 good. For that price, I really expected to have been struck by at least one ninja star.

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Hot pot at the ninja restaurant. Notice the lack of ninjas.

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A Temple Stay and Universal Studios, Osaka

After spending a few days in the old capital of Nara, we took a 15 minute train ride into the mountains. Angela had booked us a temple stay at Senju-In, which was a really neat experience. We did have to take a cab to the temple after arriving on the train; cab rides in Japan are expensive and should be avoided at all costs. It was very cold when we arrived, and we discovered that we were the only guests. I guess winter is not a popular time for people to visit this temple.
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The History and Deer of Nara, Japan

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.

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Sampling sake at the Harushika Brewery.

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Tokyo in Christmastime

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.

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Our sad and dead Christmas tree, abandoned in the dead of night to avoid being seen.

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Sweet and Spicy Chengdu

Chendgu and Sichuan province are highly recommend in all of the China travel books, and with my family visiting we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit!   After a rare on time departure from Pudong we arrived in Chengdu late afternoon on Sunday.  Whenever arriving to a new place, I always try to arrange an airport pick up from the hotel.  Is this more expensive?  Yes!  Is it worth it?  Yes!  As a nervous traveler it’s less stressful to know that you’ll have a ride when you arrive!
We stayed at Mrs. Panda Hostel which was located right near the Li River and semi central Chengdu.  The price was decent and the rooms were more like hotel rooms than hostel!  The common area was very spacious and served beer and food!
Since we had all afternoon we decided to take the bus to the Wuhou Temple and Jinli Pedestrain Street. After exploring the temple and gardens we stopped for some snacks and overpriced beers before heading back to the hostel.  We had the option to get our ears cleaned by the locals but decided to pass.
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Mystery Foods
Since our hotel was near a university, the staff recommended a near by street with a variety of resturants.  We decided on one that had a picture menu so that we didn’t end up with something strange!  We ended up with standard Sichuan foods such as Mapo Tofu, green beans, egg plant, ribs, and some random cold meat dish.  All in all it was delicious!

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Daily Life in Shanghai: The Not-So-Mundane

Angela recently agreed to share our blog on a website called Shanghai Bloggers. I was initially excited about the prospect of sharing our blog with a larger community, but then I felt a little bad about being a ‘seasonal blogger’. By this I mean we typically only post after we’ve taken an exotic vacation somewhere, and we have a lot of pictures that we need an excuse to share. This led me to the decision to write a post about our normal lives, which for the past few weeks have seen some interesting activities.

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Into the Heart of Beer Country: Qingdao, China

On April 30th, Angela and I made a pilgrimage with our good friends Andrea, John, Catherine, Ross and Juliet, into the heart of Chinese beer country. We traveled to Qingdao, which is the home to the Tsingtao Brewery, which to be honest was the main reason for us visiting. We had a three day weekend, and so decided to make a quick trip out of it. We arrived to a slightly rainy and cold Qingdao, and transported directly to our beautiful little hostel called the Wheat Hostel and got checked in. After we moved into our new accommodations, we decided that we should find a local Tsingtao before turning in. We had heard rumors that they served beer in plastic bags in Qingdao, and were hopeful to score one. Upon turning the corner outside of our hostel, we were greeted by a nice Chinese man who immediately asked us if we wanted some. Perfect!

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We soon found out that it seemed to be customary in Qingdao to try and pour beer with as much head as possible. However, the beer was delicious even still! We turned in soon after the above photo was captured.

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December 2014: Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne

Angela and I spent one week in Hanoi, Vietnam last February and loved it. As we were deciding where to explore during our Christmas holiday, Vietnam came up during each discussion. We finally decided that since we had seen some of the north, this time we would travel from the south to the north. We booked our tickets to Ho Chi Minh city and arrived on December 20th. Angela, being a booking whiz, had arranged for a car to pick us up from the airport and drop us at our accommodations called Long Hostel. Long Hostel was affordable and extremely helpful. The one thing that really stood out to me was how many bananas they give to you – for free! When we arrived, we had bananas. Every morning when we ate breakfast – we got a banana. When we were sitting in the common area waiting to book tours – we feasted like royalty on bananas.

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(And tea)

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Cooking in Shanghai

Cooking in Shanghai can be difficult.  You are surrounded by restaurants, dinner dates, and then there is Sherpas, the website the delivers food right to you door!  But why is cooking in Shanghai difficult?  I mean even the groceries get delivered to your door.

The past few weeks I was selected to participate in a trial group for the app Sidechef.   Sidechef is a step by step cooking app with loads of recipes and drinks.  The app is great and easy to use, even my boyfriend was able to create some salmon burgers with it!  I loved the app because it got me out of my cooking rut and gave me new recipes to pick from!  So what did I make?  I started with yellow curry!  First of all, why have I never made curry before?  This curry was so easy to make and tasted amazing!   I used a pre-made curry paste to save on time and ingredients, the rest was chop and simmer!  The big mistake I made was using purple potatoes!  Note:  Purple and Yellow do not mix well together, add shrimp and you get all kinds of strange colors!  Thankfully it tasted good!  I then tried and failed to make a “healthy” broccoli salad.   I finely chopped broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower.  Added mushrooms and almonds.   My mistake was not measuring or following directions on the dressing.  I added the juice of 1 lemon, random assortments of spices (mostly garlic pepper) And then thought it would be a good idea to add greek yogurt!

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October Review!

October was a whirlwind month for Jason and I. Thankfully we came back from October break rested and ready for the busy month ahead.  For me, October was the month I started my masters program.  The program is offered though SUNY (Southern University of New York). The classes are on campus at SCIS and online. The on campus classes are given over 2 weekends, which means 15 straight days at school. Thankfully, my first class was low stress and and quick to get through!

For Jason, October was the month of the SCIS Music Festival. Jason had been working very hard to prepare for this event.  The festival showcases all of the middle school muisc ensembles: guitar, percussion, choir, band, and orchestra.  For band, Jason invited retired Iowa band directors Jim Fritz and Leon Kuehner to guest direct the bands.  Jim, Leon and Leon’s wife Linda arrived to Shanghai the weekend before the festival.  On Saturday we went out to eat at Di Shui Dong for some good “Chinese” food!  Afterwords, they wanted to see the city so we took them to Captain’s Bar on the Bund.  10675734_10100832654011863_4776144092395674824_n

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