One of the few challenges that we encounter living in the mega-convenient city of Shanghai is where to go for a nice bicycle ride. Over the past three years, my standards for great bike rides have dropped dramatically. I used to consider a great bike ride to involve open country and absolutely zero cars. Now, if I have a protected bike lane that I am sharing with a thousand scooters, next to a road with heavy traffic, I call it a good day. However, I can still appreciate a great ride when I find one, and I have found a few in the past couple of months.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
On September 26, 2014 Angela and I embarked on what I believe was one of the best vacations ever had by any human being ever. We spent the day filling young children’s’ minds with useful facts about music and life, and once the clock struck quitting time we immediately changed into our beach outfits and sprinted from the confines of our place of work. We cleverly had a driver waiting for us outside in a mini-van, ready to take us to the Pudong International Airport. Angela and I were to travel to Koh Lanta, an island off of the west coast of Thailand.
We were traveling with the lower school dance instructor, a Spanish woman named Laura. She was traveling to Bangkok to meet her boyfriend, and we had to travel through Bangkok to get to Krabi, which was the nearest airport to Koh Lanta. Our flight path stopped first in Hong Kong, and then in Bangkok. We were delayed terribly in Shanghai, and we fairly certain that we would miss our connecting flight. Luckily, there were so many of us on that flight that Hong Kong delayed the flight to Bangkok. We were personally escorted through the airport and a slightly faster than comfortable speed, and immediately boarded our next flight at approximately 10:00 PM. The rest of the passengers who were already onboard and waiting seemed really glad that the plane was held for us. We arrived in Bangkok around midnight. Angela had booked a hotel at the Amari Aiport Hotel (which is a fantastic place to stay) which is near the other airport, about an hours drive from our port of entry. We had planned to take the free shuttle, but we had arrived too late. Angela loves the unrestricted internet of Thailand so much that I had to wait for her to purchase a sim card and data plan for her phone in the Bangkok airport, before I was allowed to go to bed. We took a cab to our hotel.
Early the next morning, we woke up and walked across the skybridge to the Don Mueang International Airport. We had a great flight to the Krabi airport, where a van was waiting to transport us to our hotel on Koh Lanta. The route to Koh Lanta takes about three hours by van, and includes two ferry rides. We had to wait a long time for the second ferry. I slept most of the way, because I was still tired by our late arrival and early departure.