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.


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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Spring Break 2014: Bangkok and Cambodia

For our last break of the year, we traveled to Bangkok and Cambodia.  It was our 2nd time in Bangkok but our first actually spending time in the city.   The main reason we were in Bangkok was for a work-related conference.  The conference was nice and it was fun to travel with our friends/co-workers.  The conference was held at the Shangri-La hotel and was conveniently a short walk from our hotel.  After a late arrival (4 am) we attended the one and only music related event of the conference!  Our first night in Bangkok we had a conference sponsored cocktail hour by the pool!   Free wine and beer and delicious food made for a great start to vacation!  Later, we ventured to a roof top bar (made famous from Hangover 2) for views of the city.  The drinks were pricey but the views and company were nice.


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A Week in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Angela and I recently embarked on a three week exotic holiday vacation with our good Canadian friend named Kat. I think it is safe to say we are a little spoiled. I had my week full of concerts right before Christmas vacation, and then was rewarded with three weeks off. On Saturday morning, December 21st, we woke up at 5 in the morning so that we might catch our 9:00 AM flight to Chiangmai, Thailand. We arrived at the Pudong airport with plenty of time to get through security. I was a little surprised at how much easier it was to get through the security in Shanghai than in Chicago when we left for China. I started to take off my shoes and belt when the security guard laughed and said “ok, ok”. We all made it on to our flight with no problems. I found it a little depressing how sunny it was outside once we rose above the cloud of pollution that rests over Shanghai. Below is a graphic picture of the wall where it abruptly ends.


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Bugs and Karaoke

This past weekend was a very entertaining weekend for us Iowans abroad. On Friday night we met a few teachers for a drink at a nearby pedestrian street called “Golden Street”. For those of you who have frequented the Iowa City ‘Pedestrian Mall’, this is a similar sort of thing. There are a number of these pedestrian streets around Shanghai, but this is the closest to our apartment. We did not stay out too late. Saturday we had to play for the musical at school. Angela is accompanying the musical on piano, which is a very important job. I am playing trombone in the pit, which is not nearly as important of a job, but also means I can screw around more in rehearsals. There are several teachers playing as well, so I have plenty of people to talk to when I should be playing.

On Saturday night we celebrated a coworkers birthday by eating dinner at the Shanghai Brewery followed by a rousing session of karaoke. See below.


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Angela and I spent the final Saturday of our October holiday exploring Nanxiang, which is an old river town in the outer reaches of Shanghai. The major draw was that Nanxiang is the supposed birthplace of great dumplings. Or maybe a special kind of dumpling. Either way, there were a ton of dumpling shops. Once we arrived at the Nanxiang metro stop on line 11, we went into a Starbucks to get some coffee and figure out where the old town was. Starbucks is a rare sight in China, so we take advantage of the special times that we find them. Sometimes we have to travel further than a block to find one, which is very disconcerting. You can read all about how extremely rare Starbucks is becoming here.

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October Holiday

So far we have had a fairly active October break. At the very start of break, we spent the weekend in Nanjing, China which you can read about in the previous post. Nanjing used to be the capital of China, so there is quite a bit of history in that city. On Monday after we returned from Nanjing, we met up with a young couple who signed up to couch surf with us. There is a website that you can register with called couch surfing, and connect with people and places to stay for free all around the world. We had a married couple sign up to stay with us named Brett and Angie, and they are from Australia. They had previously come from the United States before then. Brett was an engineer and Angie an educator, but they both quit their jobs to travel the world. They are approaching one year of traveling. What a cool adventure! We met them and brought them to our apartment, and then we all went off in separate directions.

Angela and I decided to visit Jing’an Temple. This temple is not too far from where we live.

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