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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Four Iowans Abroad

Angela and I recently hosted two very special guests. Angela’s mother Cindy and her grandmother Marjorie visited us for two weeks. It was awesome! They are both very laid back people, and were a pleasure to have around. It also gave Angela and I a chance to do a few things that we had not yet accomplished in and around Shanghai.
Arriving at the Airport!

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The Summer of 2015: Back in Iowa

After spending a week exploring Chengdu and Shanghai with Angela’s brother and sister-in-law, we flew back to where our hearts are:

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Iowa, USA! It is always such a pleasant feeling to exchange big city life with rural Iowa for a month. My dad met us at O’Hare, and took us home from there. It worked well, and probably saved us some time rather than trying to fly to Iowa from Chicago (although it cost my father some extra time…). We spent the first few days enjoying some of the things that we miss most about our home state. We will often talk with our friends about the meals that we have to eat while we are home. Below is Angela’s staple must-have, purchased from That Place near Marshalltown, Iowa.

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Visitors in Shanghai!

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.

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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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Shanghai Weekend!

Wow what a crazy week of highs and lows!   First off, we have to give a huge THANK YOU to the Shanghai Bloggers and all the companies for the amazing goodie bag!  Fields (an online grocery store) was very creative and gave us product that related to our blog!  Can you guess what it was?   Corn!    So if you’re looking for a way to keep up with all the Shanghai bloggers, download the app! 11412154_10101096512362613_5782021768617926288_n (1)Besides the amazing party, I had my week of concerts.  It was stressful and exhausting but well worth it!  This year Sean and I did 2 mini-musicals for grade 4/5 and 2/3.  Both concerts went extremely well and the kids had  a blast!   The past 2 years have flown by, but I have to say Sean and I have done a pretty good job! Continue reading

The Return to Paradise: Cebu, Philippines

 Angela and I have been reflecting on the fact that we are awfully spoiled. We were given a week of vacation in celebration of the Chinese New Year. We are in the year of the sheep. A group of 11 teachers and friends from my school, including myself and Angela, decided to take a trip together. We had done a similar trip last year in the Philippines, and had a wonderful time. Angela, being the booking whiz that she is, booked us at a beautiful place called The Granada Beach House, which I could not recommend highly enough.

We left our place of work at 3:30PM sharp, and traveled to the Pudong International Airport with our good UK friend, Jules. Our flight was delayed several hours immediately after we had made it through security. We were supposed to fly to Hong Kong, then to Manila, and then catch a flight to Cebu island. Due to the delay, we missed our flight out of Hong Kong and had to rebook for 7:50AM the next morning. We also knew that this would cause us to miss our flight to Cebu, so we had to totally rebook a different ticket. Angela and I decided that we have had such incredible luck so far in our many travels that we were due for some nonsense. Our track record is still pretty good. We spent a cold and delirious night on the floor of the Hong Kong airport while we waited for our 7:50 AM flight. Manila has a strange airport, with different terminals spread many miles apart from one another, so we were a little concerned about making our new flight, but it turned out we arrived and departed from the same terminal in Manila. That part was a breeze, and we arrived to our gate with time to spare to purchase some necessities not readily available in China, such as A&W root beer and Combos.

We arrived in Cebu City around 5:00PM, and met our friend Brian who had arrived just shortly before us. The four of us had booked a van to shuttle us to The Granada Beach House. The traffic was bad, so it took about four hours to reach the house. We arrived around 9:00PM, exhausted from our trip. It was hard to see much of the place in the night time, and we were ready for bed anyway. The friendly and very helpful owners Jacques and Keira greeted us upon arrival and fed us dinner. We passed out soon after.

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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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Christmas in Mui Ne

After a fun night in Saigon, we headed to Mui Ne with our friends John and Catherine (aka the GKs)We had arranged a car through our resort to take us on the 4hr trip! The price wasn’t bad since we split it 2 ways but if you are looking for a cheap option, the bus is always better!

For the 1st three nights we decided to stay at a fancy resort! The resort was on the edge of town and far from the main strip. It did have a nice pool and beach front. However the drinks were overpriced and service medium. I guess we can’t handle fancy things! On Wednesday, we rented a scooter and explored the area! We stopped for coffee and later met up with the GKs for lunch. Since it was Christmas Eve, we planned to have dinner together at our resort later that night. After lunch we rent to the Forester Spa for massages. This place is great! It’s right on the beach and you can hear the waves as you get a massage. Jason and I both got relaxation massages. This was Jason’s first full body massage…lets just say he didn’t like it! After the massages I was feeling good so we decided to meet the GKs for drinks at Pogo. Pogo was also right on the beach and had big beds to lounge in by the water. We had some drinks and watched the sunset before headed to our place for Xmas eve dinner.

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